A First in Nation, Maryland Vows to Fund Planned Parenthood If Congress Stops
By Michael Dresser and Pamela Wood
Gov. Larry Hogan avoided a confrontation with Democratic lawmakers on Thursday by allowing more than a dozen bills to become law without his signature -- including measures that give money to the attorney general to sue the federal government and require the state to fund Planned Parenthood if it loses federal funding.
The Republican governor declined to comment on the bills he elected not to sign or veto. Several drew stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers as they passed through the General Assembly.
Some of the other measures set to become law will prevent the state from opening oyster sanctuaries to harvesting until a population study is done and repeal a requirement that the state mass transit system get a certain portion of its income from fares paid by riders.
Hogan also let two of the state's budget bills become law without his signature -- signaling his dissatisfaction that lawmakers refused to grant him relief from funding formulas and spending requirements that tie his hands in future budgets.
Meanwhile, Hogan's sole veto so far -- of a bill that would limit some school reforms -- was swiftly overridden on party-line votes in the House of Delegates and state Senate on Thursday. The bill sets guidelines for how the state identifies low-performing schools and limits actions the Maryland State Board of Education can take to help those schools.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood said Maryland is the first state in the nation to guarantee funding for the nonprofit health organization, which has been criticized by Republicans in Congress and Trump administration officials. Planned Parenthood serves 25,000 patients at nine centers in the state.
"We must remember that a state solution does not change the fact that politicians in Congress are trying to prohibit millions of people from accessing care at Planned Parenthood," said Karen J. Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, in a statement.
Environmentalists were happy that oyster sanctuaries will be protected until a population study is completed. The Hogan administration had been considering giving watermen periodic access to the sanctuaries.
"We have so few oysters left, we can't randomly increase harvesting especially on sanctuaries," said Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Those areas are our insurance policy for the survival of oysters in the Chesapeake."
Transit advocates cheered passage of a law that will end the Maryland Transit Administration mandate known as farebox recovery, which set a goal of financing 35 percent of the agency's operations through fares. Republican lawmakers have long sought to keep that standard as a way of holding down taxpayer subsidies for public buses and trains, but supporters of transit programs have insisted the goal is unrealistic.
"The farebox recovery mandate repeal will remove a steep impediment to a more reliable, affordable public transportation system for the citizens of Baltimore and residents of Maryland," the Get Maryland Moving Coalition said in a statement. "Maryland was one of the few states that legally required a transit system to cover a certain percentage of operating costs from fares. Maryland has no such mandate in place for other modes of transportation receiving public investment such as roads and highways."
Another bill becoming law without Hogan's signature extends the EmPOWER Maryland energy efficiency program. Under that program, customers are charged a fee on their utility bills that utility companies use for energy efficiency programs such as home energy checkups, rebates and bill credits for reducing electricity use and efficient appliances.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy praised lawmakers and the governor for continuing EmPOWER Maryland.
"EmPOWER Maryland means more electricity savings for consumers, reduced operating costs for employers and increased jobs across the state," said Brendon Baatz, a policy manager for the council who has studied the effectiveness of EmPOWER.
Hogan's decision to avoid most of his possible veto fights this year is a concession to the political reality that Democrats hold super-majorities in both the House and Senate and can override his vetoes anytime they remain united.
That's what happened on Thursday, as lawmakers easily overrode Hogan's veto of the Protect Our Schools Act, which prohibits the state from enacting some school reforms.
On largely party-line votes of 90-50 in the House and 32-15 in the Senate, lawmakers upheld the measure, which they passed last week.
The bill had become a contentious political issue in the waning days of the session.
Hogan, the state school board and Republican lawmakers argue that it will trap students in troubled schools and tie the hands of the state when it tries to help. Democrats and the state teachers union, meanwhile, say the bill is necessary to prevent the state from taking over and privatizing troubled schools.
Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican who is the House minority leader, said the education bill has gotten caught up in the fervor to combat Republican President Donald J. Trump's administration. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports some of the controversial reforms that the measure would prohibit Maryland from enacting.
Kipke said school children are becoming "collateral damage in the war on Washington, D.C."
Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the Protect Our Schools Act will lead to "a new era in education" that isn't overly reliant on standardized tests and keeps decision-making on how to help struggling schools at the local level.
The bill will protect students from "vouchers and other quick fixes," said Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat.
The measure will guide the state's plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which is due in September. Under the act, the plan would not include the ability for the state to convert low-performing schools into charters, bring in private operators, give the children vouchers to attend private schools or putting all of those schools into a statewide "recovery" school district.
The measure also sets a formula for identifying low-performing schools that includes a mix of standardized tests and other factors, such as attendance and quality of the curriculum. The state would report how schools are ranked on the factors but would not be allowed to assign letter grades to the schools.
Hogan responded to the veto override with a posting on his Facebook page, saying he was "sad" for children who will be trapped in failing schools and concerned the state could lose education aid if the federal government finds Maryland's plan to be insufficient.
"This will long be remembered as a low point in Maryland's legislative history," Hogan wrote.
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