The Maryland General Assembly on Thursday overturned five of Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes, turning the bills into law and proving that the Democratic-controlled legislature can enforce its will despite opposition from a popular Republican chief executive.
The resurrected measures dealt with public marijuana smoking and pot paraphernalia; police seizures of criminal assets; taxation of online hotel-booking services; and funding to renovate an arts center in Annapolis.
Overturning a veto requires the approval of three-fifths of the 141-member House of Delegates and the 47-member Senate. Both chambers completed the process for the five measures Thursday.
“This is not a shot across the bow at the governor,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) said. “It’s a question of good government and reaffirming the policies that we adopted.”
Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor was disappointed with the overrides but is hopeful that lawmakers will partner with him to “move Maryland forward, instead of dwelling on last years’ issues.”
The Senate postponed action on Hogan’s veto of a bill that would grant voting rights to felons who are on parole or probation, pushing the vote to Feb. 5 so that a vacant seat can be filled.
Miller said this week that the vote of the new senator could be critical. The voting-rights bill passed the Senate last year with 29 votes, exactly the number needed to override Hogan’s veto.
The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee on Thursday nominated Del. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery) for the vacant seat.
The laws that were resurrected through overrides Thursday will take effect in 30 days, unless a bill specified a later date.
The marijuana measure decriminalizes public smoking of marijuana and possession of pot paraphernalia such as pipes, bongs and rolling papers, establishing a civil penalty for those offenses instead of criminal charges. Maryland decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2014.
The asset-seizure legislation prohibits law enforcement officers from taking suspected criminal assets worth less than $300 during criminal investigations.
Hogan vetoed both bills because of concerns raised by police and state’s attorneys. The governor offered to negotiate new versions of the bills to address those concerns. Instead, DeLeaver-Churchill said, Democratic leaders opted for “the political spectacle of a veto override.”
Police had argued that the marijuana measure would create confusion about whether police can stop drivers for smoking pot at the wheel and that the asset-seizure legislation would affect their efforts to interrupt drug-dealing and other criminal networks.
Democrats rejected both arguments during floor speeches Thursday.
Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) emphasized that driving under the influence of drugs would still be illegal. “This bill in no way legalizes somebody getting behind the wheel of a car and driving while high,” Zirkin, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said.
Two of the resurrected measures require online hotel-booking services such as Travelocity to pay the state sales tax on the purchase price of hotel rooms, rather than on the lower prices they negotiate with hotels. One of the bills applies across the state; the other affects only Howard County.
The debate over those measures centered around whether they amounted to a tax increase — something Hogan has vowed to oppose at every turn — or closed a tax loophole that deprived the state of revenue and gave online bookers an advantage over actual hotels.
“This is a tax on your constituents,” Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) said on the House floor. “This is a tax increase on their vacation costs and their overnight stay, and I’m not going to do this.”
But Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the bill affecting statewide hotel taxes, said the measure would make existing tax law work as intended and level a playing field that had favored online bookers over actual hotels.
Many Democrats had argued that Bethesda-based Marriott Corp., a strong supporter of the tax legislation, might move its headquarters to another state if the bill did not pass. But Thomas Marder, vice president of corporate affairs for the hotel chain, said the company has “not tied the two together.”
Marriott spokesman T.J. Maloney said, “We have a long history in Maryland, and I’d say that we’re really pleased the legislature listened to our thoughts on this.”
Republicans raised concerns that the tax legislation could interfere with a pending court battle between the state comptroller’s office and Travelocity over how to interpret existing law.
Madaleno said the state should not wait for the legal process to play out. “It is up to us as the legislative branch to set the policy for this state and not delegate that authority to the judicial branch,” he said.
The last veto override involved $2 million in funding to renovate the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) added the project to the state’s capital budget last year, but Hogan rejected the provision and vowed to spend the money on reopening a police barracks in the city — a move that legislative budget analysts said would be impossible because of rules governing how funds can be shifted.
Hogan found a smaller amount of money already allocated to state police that enabled the agency to reopen the barracks.