gov. Larry Hogan issued a slate of vetoes late Friday afternoon objecting to 10 pieces of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly, including a bill to expand access to abortion services in Maryland and another that would create a paid family and medical leave insurance program for nearly all workers in the state.
The Republican governor’s vetoes will block — at least momentarily — a number of liberal priorities passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. The Democratic supermajorities in both legislative chambers are expected to move swiftly to override Hogan, with votes expected as early as Saturday. Nearly all the bills Hogan vetoed passed the General Assembly with veto-proof majorities.
The actions represent what is likely Hogan’s last chance to exercise the gubernatorial veto power and distinguish himself from both the Democratic leadership in Annapolis and the national Republican Party, within which he has cast himself as an alternative to former President Donald Trump. The second-term governor, who is term-limited and leaving office in less than a year, recently turned down a chance to run for US Senate — furthering speculation that he could become a candidate for president in 2024.
The flurry of Friday veto decisions came after Democratic lawmakers rushed a stack of controversial legislation to Hogan’s desk earlier this month to guarantee themselves enough time to override any of Hogan’s objections. While Hogan’s vetoes drew sharp criticism from Democrats, the governor did surprise some by letting a bill that outlaws so-called “ghost guns” and a sweeping package of climate change proposals slide into law without his signature.
During his tenure, Hogan has largely avoided many hot-button social issues like abortion, where his own professed views — and those of most Republicans nationally — run counter to the majority of voters in blue Maryland. Hogan’s decision to veto the abortion expansion is among the first times he has been forced to take a political stand on a procedure he personally opposes but has called “settled law” in the state.
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The vetoed Abortion Care Access Act would allow medical professionals besides doctors to perform the procedure in Maryland, require most health insurance plans to cover abortions at no cost to patients and set aside $3.5 million in state funds annually to train abortion providers.
Hogan said his veto reaffirmed “my commitment to take no action that would affect Maryland law where it concerns reproductive rights” in a letter to lawmakers. The governor instead contended that allowing non-physicians to perform abortions “endangers the health and lives of women” and the bill would “set back standards for women’s health care and safety.”
Proponents of the Abortion Care Access Act have argued that most abortions are low-risk medical care and that, especially in light of medical advances over recent decades, other health care workers such as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives can provide abortion services safely.
The paid leave program vetoed by Hogan would offer nearly all Maryland workers up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for ailing relatives, welcome a new baby, recover from a medical issue or prepare for military deployment. New parents who also deal with another crisis in the same year could tap an additional 12 weeks of leave under the program, which wouldn’t fully launch until 2025.
The benefit would be funded by payroll taxes, although the exact tax rate and how contributions are split between businesses and workers is left up to a future state labor secretary after additional studies to forecast the program’s costs.
Also on Hogan’s veto list:
- A measure to prevent local politicians from firing county health officers except for cause. Heated controversy and public backlash over COVID-19 restrictions in some counties inspired the proposed new job protections, which supporters (mostly Democrats) argued would insulate independent health experts from political influence but that opponents (mostly Republicans) contended would make the leaders of local health departments, unlike the heads of other local government agencies, unaccountable to democratically elected leaders.
- Several organized labor priorities, including a bill to extend collective bargaining rights to attorneys and other workers in the state Office of the Public Defender; allowing sergeants and supervisors in the Maryland Transit Administration Police to join the existing union with rank-and-file officers; and two measures to broaden the circumstances when local government contractors must pay prevailing wages.
- An effort to bolster MARC passenger rail service by forcing the Hogan administration to move forward with long-discussed expansion plans, such as expanding service into Western Maryland and running trains into neighboring Delaware and Virginia. The governor has clashed with lawmakers before over efforts to redirect some transportation dollars away from highways and toward public transit.
- A bill to require that law enforcement officers contact parents and an attorney before interrogating children or teenagers. Supporters argued that teens and children are less capable of handling stressful interrogations and are more vulnerable to manipulation by the police, making extra safeguards necessary to protect their rights. Critics lamented that it could slow police investigations and extend new legal protections to juveniles accused of serious violent crimes.
- New security rules for gun shops in Maryland that would require dealers to store all firearms in a secure space outside of business hours, install video cameras and add other security features. The bill also would allow the state to suspend or revoke a dealer’s license if they repeatedly ignored the rules.
Hogan, however, did not veto a broader juvenile justice reform bill which, like the climate package and “ghost gun” ban, will become law now without his signature. The reform package creates a new minimum age for children to face charges in juvenile court — 13 for most crimes, although children as young as 10 could still be charged with extremely serious offenses like murder — and prevents juvenile judges from sentencing youths to confinement for nearly all first-time misdemeanors while expanding diversion programs for children accused of crimes.