Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Tuesday that he has enough votes to override at least one of Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes, and his office said efforts are underway to restore all six measures that the governor rejected after the legislature approved them.
Multiple overrides at the start of the 2016 legislative session would send a clear message to the first-term Republican governor that, despite high approval ratings across the state, his power remains limited by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
The bills that Hogan vetoed dealt with taxes for online hotel-booking sites, voting rights for former inmates, marijuana laws and criminal-asset seizures. In some cases, there were multiple bills on the same topic.
An aide to Miller (D-Calvert) said the Senate is likely to override the vetoes for most of the bills and pass new versions of the others after tweaking some provisions.
“In the end, they are all issues of import to a majority of the General Assembly, or they wouldn’t have passed in the first place,” said the aide, who asked not to be named in order to speak frankly.
One bill, on the seizure of criminal assets, passed both the state Senate and the House of Delegates with veto-proof majorities, meaning that it probably would not require much lobbying for an override. The other bills would each require a few more votes in the House.
The 47-member Senate needs 29 votes to overturn a veto; the 141-member House needs 85. There are 33 Democrats in the Senate and 91 in the House.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) is talking with his leadership team and plans to consult with the entire Democratic caucus to determine how many votes would be available for a potential override of the various bills, according to his chief of staff.
Hogan was defiant Tuesday in the face of the threatened overrides. “They can do whatever they want, but we stand by the veto,” he said.
The hotel tax bill, which passed with 32 votes in the Senate and 84 in the House, would require online booking services, such as Travelocity, to pay the same 6 percent state sales tax as hotels. It is strongly supported by Bethesda-based Marriott Corp. and other hotel chains.
Opponents say the proposed change would amount to a new tax, something Hogan vowed to oppose during the 2014 campaign.
The Associated Press reported this week that Miller said he had enough votes to override Hogan’s veto of the bill.
In the House, the tax measure was one vote shy of the number needed for an override, and Del. James Proctor (D-Prince George’s), who died in September, missed the vote due to illness. His wife, Elizabeth “Suzie” Proctor, who was appointed by Hogan to fill the seat, said Tuesday that she hasn’t made a decision about the bill. “I’m still listening to what people have to say,” she said.
Hogan’s spokesman said the governor vetoed the tax measure because the state comptroller’s office is in a legal battle over how the existing law applies to third-party hotel bookers.
“The administration believes the General Assembly should continue to respect the long-standing tradition of not passing legislation that would directly affect a matter being litigated in a pending court case,” Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said.
The governor vetoed similar tax legislation that would have applied to hotel bookings in Howard County; that had passed with 90 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.
Hogan also rejected two measures that would have allowed felons to vote when they are on parole or probation, saying such individuals have not finished paying their debt to society. Both bills passed with enough Senate votes to override a veto but fell three votes shy of the number required in the House.
Del. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the House bill, said advocates and legislators who support the bill are mounting an override effort. He said two Prince George’s delegates who support the legislation were absent from the initial House vote.
Another bill Hogan vetoed would decriminalize public marijuana smoking and legalize pot paraphernalia, such as pipes and bongs. The legislation passed with 83 votes in the House and 32 in the Senate.
Hogan said he rejected the measure because it would have created confusion about whether police can stop individuals for smoking marijuana while driving.
The bill restricting the seizure of criminal assets would, among other things, bar law enforcement from taking assets worth less than $300 combined. The legislation passed with 89 votes in the House and with unanimous support in the Senate. Hogan said at the time that the measure would have hindered police efforts to deal with drug-dealing networks and other criminal operations.