Maryland’s House of Delegates on Thursday voted to strike down Gov. Larry Hogan’s first two vetoes of the 2016 legislative session, reminding the highly popular Republican chief executive that Democrats still wield considerable power in the state capital.
The Senate, meanwhile, narrowly rejected a Hogan nominee to the state handgun permit review board who has questioned the constitutionality of some of Maryland’s gun laws and has shared provocative messages about police-involved shootings on social media.
The vote on the nomination of Richard Jurgena, of Montgomery County, was 23 to 22 — one vote shy of a constitutional majority, because two of the 47 senators were not present. Republicans argued that a simple majority should be enough to approve the appointment and said they would appeal to the state attorney general.
At the same time, the chamber approved six Hogan nominees for the State Board of Education, despite objections from some lawmakers concerned that the appointees are strong advocates for charters schools and vouchers.
And it approved the Public Service Commission appointment of Michael T. Richard, a former deputy chief of staff to Hogan, who was accused of inappropriate communication with the governor’s office after he had joined the regulatory board as an interim appointee.
The votes came on a busy day in Annapolis that included preliminary approval in the Senate for a $37.5 million tax credit over the next five years to Northrop Grumman, an aerospace company based in Anne Arundel County.
Critics call the bill “corporate welfare,” but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the measure, which is supported by the Hogan administration, is about “keeping jobs . . . creating jobs, bringing new jobs to Maryland.”
Lawmakers also gave final approval to a bill that restricts all consumer use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to mass deaths of honeybees. If Hogan signs the bill — which applies only to amateurs, not farmers and professionals — Maryland would become the first state in the country to pass such a ban.
An effort to expand voter participation in the state by automatically placing eligible residents on the voter rolls narrowly failed to move out of the Senate, 24 to 21.
The debate over Hogan’s appointments took up much of the Senate’s morning session.
Jurgena, a cowboy-hat-wearing businessman from Montgomery County, told the Baltimore Sun this week that he believes Maryland’s handgun-permit law is unconstitutional. Based on that interview and on Jurgena’s social-media postings, the advocacy group Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence lobbied the Senate to reject the nomination.
Republicans said it was unfair to question Jurgena’s appointment on the Senate floor because the Senate Executive Nominations Committee approved his selection. But Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who voted against the nomination, said the committee approval came before Jurgena’s views were known.
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Jurgena confirmed that he believes Maryland’s handgun-permit law would be overturned if it were challenged at the Supreme Court. But he also said that if he were approved to serve on the handgun permit review board, he would uphold the statute because it is enacted Maryland law. The board hears appeals from individuals who have been denied permits.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, would not comment specifically on Jurgena’s rejection. Instead, he repeated the governor’s recent comments that the “Senate’s role is to advise and consent.”
The House of Delegates easily overrode Hogan’s rejection of bills that would require the state to score transportation projects before deciding which to fund and strip him of the ability to appoint five people to the commission that nominates school board members for Anne Arundel County.
The vote on the transportation bill was 88 to 52, three more votes than needed, and the vote on the school board legislation was 90 to 50.
The Senate, which also must vote to override in order for the bills to become law, could take up the issue as early as Friday.
Miller said the Senate is moving closer to resolving concerns over a police accountability bill that hit a snag earlier this week. He said he is confident that both the police bill and a measure designed to reduce the state prison population and costs will receive final passage before the session ends on Monday.
“Both bills are controversial because there is something in them that each and every member of the Senate doesn’t particularly care for,” he said.