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Hogan’s last bill signing leaves fate of many Md. bills up in the air

ANNAPOLIS — And now it’s down to the relative few.

Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday signed into law 144 bills in what was his fifth bill-signing ceremony Thursday including, as expected, a sweeping reform of the criminal justice system. The last pen stroke of the day left unclear the fate of roughly 100 or so of the 834 bills passed by the General Assembly in the 2016 session.

Included in the remaining bills are legislation limiting the use of pesticides linked to the decimation of bee colonies; a bill that increases the amount of renewable energy sources that must be used in generating electricity in the state; and a bill that sponsors say would help middle-class families deal with the rising costs of college educations.

The college affordability bill passed earlier this year with a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate, signaling the likelihood that the legislature would have the needed votes to override a veto. To date, the General Assembly has successfully overridden all of the vetoes handed down by the governor.

Hogan has until the end of the month to sign the balance of the bills, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.

Among the bills that haven’t been signed include the College Affordability Act of 2016 — which mandates the spending of $15 million to create a tax credit that would help up to 1,000 student annually, and a matching grant fund for parents who use state college savings plans that could help up to 40,000 children once the program is fully funded in 2020.

“It’s incredibly smart policy because it helps young people today and helps young people tomorrow,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery County and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

The bill’s mandates may be a problem for Hogan, who has routinely complained about being handcuffed by required spending.

But Madaleno said Hogan has signed some bills that created mandated spending, such as a number of aid programs to the city that will last the next five years, while rejecting others.

“He’s totally muddled his message about mandates,” Madaleno said. “I assume he’s got to figure in some political calculation that he has to stay away from some bills that have a cost lest he be labeled another tax-and-spend politician.”

Also awaiting a signature is House Bill 1006 which increases the amount of electricity generated by wind and solar to 25 percent by 2020.

Historically, utility companies have opposed larger proposed increases claiming the changes would increase the cost of energy. That bill also passed by a veto-proof majority in both Houses.

Hogan often has noted the effect of high utility costs on Maryland residents, and a spokesman said earlier this week, after the appointment of a new director of the Maryland Energy Administration, that the governor wants to focus on lowering those costs.

But this year, the state’s two largest utilities took no position on the final bill, and two smaller utilities offered what Del. Bill Frick called “soft opposition.”

“The utility industry in general worked with us and were generally supportive with where we were headed,” Frick said. “To me, this is an issue of clean air and clean energy jobs that most Marylanders support. Hopefully, Larry Hogan won’t stand in the way of some of these goals.”

Also awaiting a final disposition is House Bill 211 and Senate Boll 198. The identical pieces of legislation strictly limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to commercial uses. Supporters of the bill say the pesticides are largely linked to the destruction of bees and other pollinators.

A bill that requires the Maryland Transportation Authority to set aside $75 million annually over the next decade to help pay for the replacement of the Gov. Harry T. Nice Bridge in Charles County remains unsigned. Legislators complained that reductions in tolls announced last year effectively killed the ability of the authority to pay for a replacement for the 75-year old bridge. Replacement of the bridge that spans the Potomac connecting southern Maryland to Virginia is currently projected to cost as much as $1 billion.

The event Thursday was the last of the governor’s scheduled bill signings. To date, Hogan has signed nearly 700 of the 834 bills passed by the General Assembly in the 2016 session. A spokesman for Hogan said the governor continues to review bills and added that some could be signed in another as yet unscheduled bill ceremony.

On Thursday, Hogan signed into law the Justice Reinvestment Act, a comprehensive package of legislation that shifts the state toward providing drug treatment rather than incarceration of many offenders and reduces sentences for nonviolent criminals.

Joined by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the governor also signed “Noah’s Law,” which will require ignition interlock devices for anyone convicted of drunk driving in the state of Maryland, and a measure that prohibits adults from allowing underage drinkers at their home.

Hogan also signed:

  • A measure that makes illegal any retaliatory personnel action against a law enforcement officer who discloses specified information;
  • A bill that phases out the authority for the Commissioner of Labor and Industry to authorize a work activities center or other sheltered workshop to pay a subminimum wage to an employee with a disability. It also restricts the authority of a work activities center or other sheltered workshop to pay a subminimum wage and/or a sub-prevailing wage to an employee with a disability;
  • A measure that establishes the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Fund to provide grants to local law enforcement agencies for salaries, training, and equipment to be used for the investigation and prosecution of Internet crimes against children.