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Hogan, lawmakers celebrate bipartisanship before getting back to politics


From left, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Gov. Larry Hogan and House Speaker Michael E. Busch were all smiles when it came to Thursday’s bill signing. A few hours later, Democrats in both chambers set to work to override two of the governor’s vetoes. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — A bill signing Thursday offered a short-lived moment of bipartisanship before the 2018 legislative session moved back to partisan politics.

It was smiles and thumbs up all around from Gov. Larry Hogan and House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. as the three signed into law seven bills, including legislation meant to stabilize, at least temporarily, individual market health insurance rates in Maryland.

“This is an example of what can be accomplished when we work together,” said Hogan as he opened the bill-signing ceremony.

Busch praised lawmakers and credited Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer with alerting officials to the insurance issue, saying, “If we didn’t act this year, we weren’t going to be able to act because too many people would fall off the (insurance) rolls.”

“It was a very bipartisan effort,” said Busch.

But the good feelings and thumbs up weren’t to last. Within a few minutes of the end of the ceremony, the House of Delegates and Senate took up overrides of two different vetoed bills, including one that strips the Board of Public Works of its role in overseeing and approving state aide for school construction and renovation projects.

The Senate and House also overrode a veto on a Senate bill that makes harder to suspend or fire a teacher, principal, supervisor, assistant superintendent, or other professional assistant by allowing them to request a hearing before an arbitrator instead of the local board of education.

The original version of House Bill 1783 created a more streamlined  and modernized process for the approval and funding of school construction projects across the state as well as recommending $400 million annually be earmarked for school building and renovation.

Sweeping changes, however, incorporated in amendments to remove all authority oversight on school construction funding by the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

Democratic lawmakers were clear that Franchot and what they termed his interference in local school issues was the focus of the changes.

The House, after two hours of sometimes fiery debate, voted 90-48 on a mostly party line vote to override Hogan.

Republicans opposing the bill complained the changes were purely political in nature and aimed at stripping powers from a governor of the opposite party. Only Republican Patrick L. McDonough broke ranks to vote against the governor.

Del. Robert L. “Bob” Flanagan, R-Howard, said Democrats were happy with the powers of the Board of Public Works when a Democratic governor was in office.

“You’re really changing your tune,” said Flanagan. “You’re not taking the politics out of politics. You can’t take the politics out of politics. This is a great step backwards. This is bringing the acrimony of Washington DC to Maryland, and that I cannot tolerate.”

Similar arguments were made, with the same result, in the Senate.

Democrats argued that the changes were needed because Franchot, aided by Hogan, was usurping the decisions of local school systems in favor of their own priorities.

“I think ultimately it comes down to the question: In public education, do we believe that people on the ground in local jurisdictions know what’s best for the long education of the children in their jurisdiction or do we believe that somebody who is elected statewide is somehow inherently a better judgment or has a better ability to know what’s right,” said Sen. William C. Ferguson IV, D-Baltimore City.

Ferguson said the Board of Public Works “has always been political,” with governors offering additional school money in return for votes.

“That’s wrong,” said Ferguson. “It shouldn’t happen then and it shouldn’t happen now.”

Franchot, in a post on Facebook, decried the vote, saying that “oversight of Maryland’s Public School Construction Program will now fall to unelected political insiders who gather in virtual privacy, with no public scrutiny.”

“The big winners are Mike Miller, Mike Busch and their well-connected cronies,” said Franchot. “The big losers are public school families and teachers, Maryland taxpayers who deserve accountability for how their money is spent, and everyone who values open, transparent government.”




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