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Slew of Hogan vetoes includes bills on parole, procurements, immigrant protections

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) at a news conference in April. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week vetoed a slew of bills passed by the Democratic-majority legislature in Annapolis, including two measures that would protect undocumented immigrants from federal enforcement efforts, a bill to decriminalize possession of drug syringes and a bill to remove the governor from parole decisions.

Many of the bills Hogan (R) vetoed were passed earlier this year with sufficient support for legislators to override the vetoes. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said legislators would discuss whether to do so when they reconvene in January.

The General Assembly, where Democrats hold more than three-fifths of the seats in each chamber, overrode several earlier Hogan vetoes — including his disapproval of a broad policing overhaul — before its 90-day session ended in April.

“What is clear is that there are two visions of Maryland, one where we believe in the power of opportunity and one where we create fear and divisiveness with our neighbors,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Democrats and some Republicans in the General Assembly believe in the former, but it is sadly clear that Republicans, pulled by a hard right faction, believe in the latter.”

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Hogan, who worked with the legislature on a stimulus bill and other issues this year, spoke in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this week about how he has had to compromise as he governs “probably the most progressive state in America.”

But, he added, “we’ve pushed back against a lot of very progressive policies.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m playing goalie,” he said during the interview, at a Republican Governors Association conference. “I’m out there stopping bad things.”

The governor vetoed the immigration, parole and drug paraphernalia bills Wednesday and announced late Friday afternoon that he was rejecting about 20 more bills.

The two immigration bills had stalled in previous sessions before passing this year. One would ban the Motor Vehicle Administration from sharing personal information, including facial recognition data, with federal immigration officials.

The other would effectively bar federal immigration detention centers in Maryland and prohibit police officers from asking about a person’s immigration status during a stop, search or arrest. The bill specified that nothing in it could prevent an officer from asking about information material to a criminal investigation, but Hogan said it would impede such probes.

“We need to ensure that our law enforcement officers have every tool at their disposal in order to keep our citizens safe and protect them from felons, terrorists, repeat violent offenders, domestic abusers, and sexual predators, regardless of immigration status,” the governor’s veto letter said.

Hogan criticized the bills as creating a “sanctuary state” and said he opposes any legislation that hinders cooperation with federal law enforcement.

The immigrant advocacy group CASA called the vetoes “a gut punch to hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their families across Maryland.”

“The immigrant community, allies, and legislators demonstrated an unprecedented show of unity to pass these bills and will remain unified until his vetoes are overridden,” Cathryn Paul, CASA’s public policy manager, said in a statement.

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The parole bill, which had been proposed and rejected for nearly a decade before its passage this spring, removed the governor’s veto power over the parole board in decisions about releasing inmates serving life sentences.

Maryland is one of a few states that give governors the ability to reject recommendations made by the parole commission. Some states, however, do not allow parole for crimes that carry life sentences. Hogan has denied the majority of parole requests since taking office but has a lower rejection rate than most recent past governors.

The bill’s proponents said it was part of a larger effort to make the justice system fairer in a state where 70 percent of the prison population is made up of Black men — the highest percentage in the country.

Hogan’s veto letter called the bill “nothing more than an unfounded and unnecessary power grab and another instance of the legislative branch seeking to diminish the authority of the governor.” He said that he is “a firm believer in rehabilitative justice” but that the governor’s role “provides an important check” on the parole commission.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), one of the bill’s sponsors, said Maryland governors have made parole decisions based on politics, hoping to appear tough on crime.

The bill to decriminalize possession of certain drug paraphernalia was focused mostly on hypodermic needles. Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), the bill sponsor, told a legislative committee in February that it was “a step in the direction of treating drug addiction as a public health issue rather than criminalizing addiction.”

Carter said the bill would encourage addicts to get new needles and syringes, rather than risking infection with HIV or hepatitis by sharing or reusing dirty ones. It would also encourage them to dispose of needles safely and would remove the threat of arrest for people attempting to help addicts through syringe service programs, she said.

Hogan’s veto letter called it “a dangerous bill” that “would permit drug dealers to stockpile large quantities of paraphernalia, such as needles and syringes, and sell it to vulnerable individuals suffering from addiction.”

The bills vetoed Friday included legislation beefing up emergency procurement regulations enacted in the wake of Maryland’s $9.5 million purchase of flawed coronavirus tests from South Korea, as well as an ill-fated contract for ventilators and other purchases scrutinized by legislators.

Another bill rejected by Hogan would have established minimum funding levels for Maryland Transit Administration spending to improve mass transit. “Had this legislation been in place as the pandemic hit, MDOT would not have had the flexibility to shift funds and would have been forced to lay off valuable employees and/or further delay and even cancel critical projects across the State,” Hogan’s veto letter said.

The governor also struck down a measure requiring education and health officials to create a two-year plan to respond to the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and address disproportionate effects on underserved and minority communities.

Hogan said the bill would have required the health department to “re-develop its testing, contact tracing, and vaccination plans that have already been serving Marylanders effectively and saving lives for over a year.”

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