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5.26.21 – Baltimore Sun

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed bills Wednesday that would have banned the state and local governments from helping with certain aspects of federal immigration enforcement, deriding the measures as “sanctuary state legislation.”

One bill would have prohibited counties from being paid by the federal government to house immigration detainees. The other would have prevented federal investigators from accessing state databases and running facial recognition searches on driver’s license photos.ADVERTISING

Hogan, a Republican, announced the vetoes from Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s attending a conference of Republican governors.

In his veto message to General Assembly leaders, Hogan wrote that the state and local governments have an obligation to assist federal law enforcement.

“I remain steadfast in my opposition to any legislative or regulatory efforts that would hinder cooperation with federal law enforcement and make Maryland a sanctuary state,” Hogan wrote.

He also vetoed bills that would have removed a governor’s final say in granting parole to those serving life sentences and that would have removed syringes from the definition of illegal drug paraphernalia.ADVERTISING

Maryland’s legislature passed the four bills on largely party-line votes, with mostly Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

Three of the bills were passed with enough votes to overturn the vetoes when lawmakers are next in session, scheduled for January. The bill to decriminalize syringes passed the House of Delegates by a veto-proof margin, but the final vote in the state Senate fell one vote shy of the veto-proof threshold.

“For years, there has been bipartisan agreement that the current parole system is broken, the war on drugs is not working and we are facing a broken immigration system,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a statement. “What is clear is that there are two visions of Maryland, one where we believe in the power of opportunity and one where we create fear and divisiveness with our neighbors.”

Ferguson wrote that it is “sadly clear” that Republicans have been “pulled by a hard-right faction” toward divisiveness.

He said lawmakers would discuss the possibility of veto overrides before the next legislative session.

The bill regarding county jails would have barred local governments in Maryland from making deals with the federal government to house immigration detainees for profit. Opponents of these contracts argue that local governments should not be involved in, nor profit from, immigration enforcement.

“The governor has talked a lot about being inclusive and being welcoming to immigrants, but profiting on the backs of people who are incarcerated is certainly not that,” said Cathryn Ann Paul, a policy analyst for CASA, a group that advocates for immigrants’ rights.

The Dignity Not Detention bill was sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Montgomery County Democrat, and includes elements of a bill sponsored by Del. Wanika Fisher, a Prince George’s County Democrat.

Stewart blasted the governor as catering to a conservative Republican base instead of caring about immigrant families. He’s “absolutely confident” the legislature will override the veto.

“Governor Hogan is someone who plays a moderate on MSNBC and he deserves an Oscar for his performance. He claims to be someone who pushes back on the Trumpist and xenophobic elements of his party,” Stewart said. “But his veto message of this bill and the ‘sanctuary state’ rhetoric he uses could absolutely have been pulled from a speech by President Trump.”

County governments have been under increasing pressure from residents to end jail contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, a Democrat, announced he would end that county’s jail agreement just as the bill gained momentum during the final weeks of the legislative session this spring.

Worcester and Frederick counties also have immigration contracts at their jails.

The bill also would have banned counties governments from offering financial incentives to companies that want to open private immigration jails.

And it sought to further clarify that local police and government officials can’t ask someone about their citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops, searches and arrests.

The other immigration bill, called the Maryland Driver Privacy Act, would have prohibited the state from turning over photos of individuals to federal officials for immigration investigations, and barred the feds’ access to certain government databases unless they have a warrant. It also would have prevented immigration investigators from using facial recognition searches of photos held by the state, such as driver’s license photos.

Groups focused on immigrants, civil liberties and progressive causes said the practice of federal government surveillance of driving records is problematic.

Democratic Del. Dana Stein of Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor, noted the state several years ago created “second-tier” driver’s licenses for noncitizens and those who lack documentation so that those individuals could have identification and drive legally.

“Certainly there was never a hint that this information could be turned over to ICE for the purposes of deporting someone who had gotten a driver’s license,” Stein said.

Top officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation lobbied against the bill, arguing it would make it difficult to coordinate with the federal government on homeland security, particularly at the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Stein said those issues were addressed in revisions to the bill before it passed.

The bill that would remove the governor’s final say on parole decisions would have represented a significant curtailing of the governor’s authority.

Under current law, when the Maryland Parole Commission recommends that those serving life should be paroled, the governor can veto the decision.

The new process would have required at least six of the 10 parole commissioners to vote in favor of an inmate’s parole, a change from the current practice of having only two or three commissioners consider each parole request.

Supporters of removing the governor’s authority, including chief sponsor Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, say it would depoliticize the parole process, leaving it in the hands of commissioners, who closely review each case.

“Parole commissioners are professionals … When you have governors dealing with it, you’re dealing with people who are thinking about the next election,” Kelley said.

Kelley said versions of the bill had been considered for eight or nine years, and she thought this was finally the year for it. She was “most disappointed” by the veto.

Hogan has argued that he’s allowed more inmates serving life sentences to be paroled than his recent predecessors, including 34 with standard requests and 11 who requested medical parole. He also commuted life sentences of 23 inmates, according to his office.

The governor’s role in parole is not about politics, his office argued in written testimony, but about accountability to the public.

“The governor’s oversight duty in the current system makes policy on these sensitive issues responsive to the people,” his office wrote.

The fourth vetoed bill would remove syringes from the definition of illegal drug paraphernalia in Maryland’s criminal law.

“This bill would permit drug dealers to stockpile large quantities of paraphernalia, such as needles and syringes, and sell it to vulnerable individuals suffering from addiction,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

Supporters of the measure argued that when it’s a crime to have a syringe, it’s less likely that drug users have enough clean needles and syringes — creating a health hazard that can spread infections.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jill P. Carter of Baltimore, has said some needle-exchange programs have run into issues, with staff and participants charged with possession of paraphernalia. Though the charges are often dropped in court, being arrested and having a criminal record is problematic.

Though her bill was one vote shy of the number needed for an override, Carter said she thinks she can sway one or more votes to her side. She sees the bill as a “no-brainer” public health measure to help those suffering from the opioid crisis.

“I think Hogan’s veto is contradictory to his claim that he’s concerned about the opioid epidemic and wanting to give people the help that they need,” Carter said.

Maryland lawmakers passed more than 800 measures during their 90-day session that concluded in April. Hogan has until Tuesday to make decisions on those he hasn’t yet considered. He has the option to veto them, sign them into law or allow them to become law without his signature.

Already, Hogan has signed nearly 300 bills into law, including measures that: grant more than $1 billion in pandemic financial aid and tax breaks, create rules for the newly legal industry of gambling in sports, repeal the pro-Confederacy state song, allow bars and restaurants to continue offering carryout and delivery of alcohol, open the door to allow college athletes to profit from endorsements, set rules for compensating those who’ve been wrongly imprisonedsend hundreds of millions of dollars to historically Black universities and restructure the Maryland Environmental Service following a scandal over perks for its former director.