A bill that allows Maryland residents to automatically register to vote when they interact with state agencies has become law without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature.
Maryland joins the District and 11 other states, including Oregon and California, that allow people to register while renewing a driver’s license, signing up for health coverage with the state Health Benefit Exchange or receiving help from a social service agency.
“It’s a great step forward and will have tremendous impact for generations to come,” said state Sen. William Smith (D-Montgomery), the bill sponsor. “This will allow thousands of more Marylanders to participate in the democratic process.”
The bill was one of about a dozen that Hogan chose to allow to go into effect without his signature. The others included a measure that uncouples the state from the federal estate-tax rules, allowing the state to tax inheritances at its current $4 million level rather than the $11 million threshold allowed under new federal rules; legislation that provides $5 million in grants to local governments and nonprofit groups to assist in gathering an accurate count for the 2020 Census; and a measure that creates a task force to study alcohol regulations.
The bills were sent to Hogan’s desk before the end of the 90-day legislative session to give the General Assembly enough time before adjourning on April 9 to override any possible vetoes.
“As the governor has said, he hoped the General Assembly would prioritize the policy initiatives that are most important to Marylanders, such as making schools safer, increasing accountability in education, creating jobs, providing relief to taxpayers and fighting violent crime,” Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email. “Unfortunately the bills that they chose to send to the governor early do not reflect those priorities.”
Chasse did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment about Hogan’s decision not to sign the bills.
Smith said he was disappointed the governor chose not to sign a bill that had been a bipartisan effort in other states.
In addition to automatic voter registration, the General Assembly this session approved a bill asking voters to amend the state constitution to allow people to register to vote at polling places on Election Day.
People can register during the state’s early voting period.
“Our democracy is stronger when we expand voting access,” said Alexandra Neuhaus-Follini, the co-coordinator of Indivisible Baltimore, which advocated for the automatic voter registration bill.
The automatic voter registration bill takes effect July 2019. Smith said the additional time provides a buffer for state agencies. Potential voters would have to opt out of the registration.
One bill streamlines and modernizes the process for building and repairing schools and removes the state Board of Public Works, which consists of the governor, comptroller and treasurer, from the process of deciding which schools are built and when.
The other measure changes the process for disciplining teachers, allowing an arbitrator instead of the local board to have the final say in the decision.