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Md. legislators override 5 vetoes, delay on felon voting rights

Maryland State House

Maryland State House in 2013. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — A vote to override a veto of a bill granting voting rights to felons still on parole or probation has been delayed until February in order to secure a key vote by filling a vacant legislative seat.

The measure is the last of six bills and one capital budget project that was vetoed last spring by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“We want to make sure everyone is here to vote on these bills,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said minutes after a session in which only 46 of the 47 senators were present to participate in the veto override votes. “Everybody here should have an opportunity to vote on it so their constituents know how they voted.”

But earlier on the floor, when Senate Minority Whip Steve Hershey, R- Middle Eastern Shore, asked if the Feb. 5 date was relevant and in any way connected to the swearing in to fill a vacant Senate seat, Miller said: “Yes.”

Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller. (File)

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller. (File)

The House of Delegates voted Wednesday to override House bill 980. That bill and the identical Senate Bill 340 now sit in the Senate — the only bills vetoed by Hogan that have not been overturned by the General Assembly.

The delay is directly related to the retirement of Sen. Karen S. Montgomery, 80, D-Montgomery, who announced her retirement in December.

In 2015, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 29-18.  The departure of Montgomery, who served in the Senate since 2011, means that supporters of the bill are one shy of the necessary number to secure a veto override.

Montgomery’s successor will be recommended by the state Democratic Party’s central committee to the governor, who traditionally accepts that recommendation from the party whose member held the seat.

Miller said Thursday that the overrides were not political.

“(The bills) had overwhelming support when they passed including the forfeiture bill, which was unanimous when it passed in the Senate,” Miller said. “For whatever reason the governor chose to veto these bills and the legislature re-affirmed its commitment to their passage. This is not a shot across the bow of the governor. It’s just a question of good government.”

On Thursday, the House and Senate completed overrides on four other vetoed bills and Hogan’s line item veto of a grant to a project that is a favorite of House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

On Thursday, the Senate completed an override of a veto of a bill establishing a hotel tax for online bookings in Howard County and overrode the veto of a statewide bill on the same issue. The House soon after overrode the statewide online hotel tax veto.

Supporters of the bill said it was needed to level the playing field between online companies such as Expedia and Travelocity and local hotel operators and would prevent Bethesda-based Marriott International from relocating its headquarters outside of Maryland.

“The hotel industry recognizes that online travel companies are an important part of the travel marketplace, but their refusal to remit sales tax on the same condition as hotels is simply not fair,” Amy Rohrer, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Hotel & Lodging Association said in a statement. “Our industry isn’t looking for a handout, but rather a level hand in the establishment and enforcement of laws that impact our business.”

Opponents of the override called the measure a new tax. Hogan urged lawmakers to wait until a five-year old case in Maryland Tax Court was decided.

“Today’s party-line vote is a clear signal to Maryland taxpayers who demanded a new direction during the last election that many in Annapolis didn’t get the message,” said Philip Minardi, vice president of communications and public affairs for The Travel Technology Association, which had fought the bill. “With the override of S.B.190, the legislature once again caved to Marriott’s threat to move out of state and voted to increase taxes on over 200 community travel agencies and countless travel service providers. Because of today’s vote, Maryland’s tourism economy will pay the price. Maryland’s taxpayers who travel in-state will pay for these taxes in the form of higher room rates. Further, lawmakers who voted to override Governor Hogan’s veto willfully acted to make Maryland travel and tourism less competitive with neighboring states.”

Other veto override votes included:

  • The Senate voted 29-17 to override the veto of a bill that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Lawmakers in the House voted later 86-55 later the same day to override the same veto.

  • The Senate voted 32-14 to override the veto of a bill that limits the ability of authorities to use forfeiture to seize money in criminal proceedings;  the House voted 90-51 to override the same veto.

  • The Senate completed an override of a veto on a $2 million grant to the Maryland hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis with a 33-14 vote. Maryland Hall is a favored project of House Speaker Michael Busch. The House of Delegates voted to override the veto on Wednesday.