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Was the transportation scoring bill ‘rammed through’ the General Assembly?

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has accused Democratic legislators of skipping important steps in passing a controversial transportation scoring bill that the General Assembly passed over his veto.

Gov. Larry Hogan, left, speaks as Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn listens on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan, left, speaks as Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn listens on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

The governor, during a news conference last week calling for the repeal of the bill, accused the legislature of
ignoring process in order to force a bill through the legislature. Democrats have fired back that Hogan has a casual relationship with the truth and is taking after President-elect Donald Trump.

But the truth of the matter is somewhat more convoluted, wonkier and not contained in Schoolhouse Rock’s simplified explanation of how bills become laws.

Here’s what Hogan said during the news conference:

Unfortunately this past session the legislature passed a horrible bill, which was drafted in secret, in backrooms by lobbyists and special interest groups. They rammed it through without hearings or any public input. It was voted on with no study and very little debate. Most legislators had no idea what they were voting on or why or what the draconian consequences of it would be.

So when the governor took questions, The Daily Record asked the governor how he reconciled his statement with the legislative history of the House and Senate versions of the bills.

“They didn’t go through the normal process,” Hogan said. “They did rush it through and I said ‘it got very little debate.'”

The governor is right in the fact that the legislature “rushed the bill through.” He’s wrong when he says the bill received no hearings or no public input.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill received hearings in their respective chambers on Feb. 17 and March 2, respectively. Both hearings are available on video, and state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn testified against the bill at both.

The House completed its work on House Bill 1013 on March 19 and sent it to the Senate.

Senate Bill 908, sponsored by Sen. James E. “Ed” DeGrange Sr., D-Anne Arundel, never received a vote in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Instead, that panel chose instead to amend the House Bill sent to them.

DeGrange, commenting on the legislation earlier this year, said his bill “is going nowhere” since the Senate made amendments to the House version and apparently fast-tracked the bill.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties and chair of the budget committee, was overheard earlier this year telling a Republican senator that there was a push to get the bill on the floor before the sponsor-only hearing.

By tradition, bills that are cross-filed in the House and Senate receive a full hearing in their original chamber and a sponsor-only hearing when they are sent to the opposite chamber.

What should have been a sponsor-only hearing for House Bill 1013 was scheduled for March 29 in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. That hearing never happened. Instead, the bill legislators said is supposed to promote transparency was amended and voted out of committee session March 28. That session does not appear on any calendar.

It should be noted that the General Assembly typically amends bills during its various committee voting sessions, which are open to the public to attend but are not livestreamed as hearings are. The committees do not, however, hold a second public hearing on the bill as amended. The amended version of the bill is sent to the committee to the floor for public debate.

The unusual procedural skip-ahead by Kasemeyer and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee made it possible to fast-track the legislation and get it on the Hogan’s desk by April 1 — forcing governor to sign or veto the bill during session and allowing the General Assembly to take up a veto override.

Following the news conference last week, a Hogan spokesman reiterated the governor’s disappointment with the process.

“The fact is, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of transparency with this bill from the get go,” said Douglass Mayer. “They totally changed the bill, There were no more public hearings after that. They claim this is like the Virginia bill. That is the biggest bunch of, you know, a steaming pile of baloney. That’s just complete garbage.”

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