The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland Senate overrides Hogan veto of bill that funds nation’s first drug affordability board

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), gives an elbow bump to Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith (D-Prince George's) on the first day of the 2021 legislative session. (Julio Cortez/AP)

The Maryland Senate on Friday rejected 16 of Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes from last year, including of a bill that would establish a permanent funding mechanism for the nation’s first prescription drug affordability board.

The votes to override the governor’s vetoes were the first major action taken by the Senate since Wednesday’s start of the annual 90-day legislative session. The 30-15 vote split along party lines.

“This is a board that will help Marylanders protect their health care by lowering the cost ideally of drugs where we are seeing too many pharmaceutical companies use drug pricing to eviscerate the market,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said of the decision to overturn the governor’s veto.

Among the other vetoes that were taken up by the Senate were two crime-prevention bills for Baltimore City and a measure that creates a special unit in the state Attorney General’s Office to help seniors.

The overrides passed by the Senate must now be considered by the House of Delegates, which because of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions has pushed off voting sessions until next month.

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The legislature created the drug affordability board in 2019 without a permanent way to fund it. Last year, the General Assembly passed a measure that creates a mechanism to fund the board with up to $2 million a year.

Vincent DeMarco, the president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said overriding Hogan’s veto would allow the board to continue its mission to cap the costs of certain prescription drugs purchased by state local government employers and ultimately develop a plan on how to make prescription drugs more affordable.

“Establishing permanent funding for the board will guarantee it has the resources it needs to effectively address the issue of rising drug costs,” DeMarco said in a statement.

Hogan last year also vetoed a sweeping education reform plan, which carries a $4 billion annual price tag; a first-in-the-nation proposal to tax the targeted digital advertising on giant online platforms such as Facebook and Google; and a $580 million disbursement to the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, key to settling a long-running lawsuit over inequitable funding.

The General Assembly is expected to consider overriding those vetoes later this session.

In his veto message last year, Hogan said the pandemic made it too risky to fund the drug affordability board, the education overhaul and other costly measures.

“The economic fallout from this pandemic simply makes it impossible to fund any new programs, impose any new tax hikes, nor adopt any legislation having any significant fiscal impact, regardless of the merits of the legislation,” Hogan wrote.

On Friday, three top leaders of the House of Delegates met for less than three minutes to introduce about 100 bills and assign them to committees.

The House is operating under new rules because of the pandemic, which allow House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore), Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) and Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) to take some procedural actions without the 141-member body present.

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The nation’s first drug affordability board is set up in Maryland, but it has no money