Who Will Blink? MD General Assembly Mid-Week 12

The 2016 Session of the Maryland General Assembly is quickly coming to an end. There are 12 days left until Sine Die, and legislation not passed before then will be dead.

A lot of bad legislation has made it through the legislative process, but some of the more problematic bills have not yet passed. Of these, HB 1013 is the worst. We’ve discussed before how this bad piece of legislation will cause problems for the vast majority of Marylanders, and there is no need to return to the argument. Instead, this week’s update will focus primarily on an attempt by the Democratic leadership within the State Legislature to force the bill through now to help speed up the process to override a likely veto by the governor.

Please note that the following piece does not reflect the official opinion of Red Maryland. The statements and opinion are solely my own, derived from 4 years of direct experience with the legislative process and over a decade of involvement in Maryland politics.

What is a Veto?

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For context, the Washington Post wrote an informative, but incomplete, article regarding the current showdown between the Governor and the Democratic leadership in the legislature.

The rules for the veto process can be found in Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution:

(b) If any Bill presented to the Governor while the General Assembly is in session is not returned by him with his objections within six days (Sundays excepted), the Bill shall be a law in like manner as if he signed it, unless the General Assembly, by adjournment, prevents its return, in which case it shall not be a law.

(c) Any Bill presented to the Governor within six days (Sundays excepted), prior to adjournment of any session of the General Assembly, or after such adjournment, shall become law without the Governor’s signature unless it is vetoed by the Governor within 30 days after its presentment.

If a bill is passed within the next 4 days, then a veto must take place before the end of session. If a bill passes today, the veto must be returned Wednesday night before midnight. If tomorrow, then Thursday night, and so on.

Once a vetoed bill is returned to the legislature, then the leaders need to secure votes to override a veto:

If, after such reconsideration, three-fifths of the members elected to that House pass the Bill, it shall be sent with the objections to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if it passes by three-fifths of the members elected to that House it shall become a law. The votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively.

In the House of Delegates, three-fifths translates into 85 votes of 141 members. In the State Senate, three-fifths is 29 votes of 47 members.

We’ve discussed how the Senate President ignored the Maryland Constitution earlier in this year when overriding the Governor’s 2015 vetoes. Similar problems may take place.

What Happens with a Veto Override?

To override a veto takes time. At the beginning of a legislative session, time is meaningless. The House of Delegates and State Senate both waste time during session by introducing guests, celebrating birthdays and special events, or discussing other non-legislative affairs. Bills are just being introduced, and there is little work to be found. By the end of session, everyone is in a rush to make the Sine Die deadline, and every second is precious.

Every year, bills fail to pass because they do not make the deadline. Bills with universal support and voted on in both chambers fail to become law simply because they were rushed through minutes before the midnight deadline and did not make it.

The legislature cannot afford to waste time on veto overrides if they hope to get the bulk of their agenda passed. Every second spent on discussing a veto is one wasted on committee hearings, committee votes, or other necessary agenda items. Even priority bills will become neglected.

Then there is the monetary cost. Time has proven that even the most hardcore, loyal Democrat will put their hand out when an important vote arrives. The legislature often has to give expensive payouts ($1 billion to Baltimore City schools for casinos), yet they no longer have the Budget to play with (SB 190 passed). Their largest bargaining chip is gone.

Likewise, the Capital Budget is close to passage, and there is no guarantee that an agreement can be made to get votes. Additionally, the Governor has line item veto authority of the budget, which can strip out giveaways.

Will Democratic legislators jump on board with a series of veto overrides that put their own favored legislation at risk simply to spite the Governor? Will they pass on a prime opportunity to bring funds to their own communities? Nothing happens for free in Annapolis.

Who Will Blink First?

If the Democratic leadership in Annapolis wants to continue to be uncivil, abusive, and inappropriate, then the Governor should not play their game. While they deal with nasty words and dishonest actions, the Governor should abide by the authority and power of the Maryland Constitution.

Our Forefathers gave us a Governor with veto power to combat an abusive legislature, which they made clear in the opening of Section 17 quoted before: “To guard against hasty or partial legislation and encroachment of the Legislative Department upon the co-ordinate Executive and Judicial Departments.”

He needs to use that very power. The Governor should look at all legislation that has been passed and veto each and every bill that lacks bi-partisan support. Each partisan bill represents an abuse of legislative power, allowed only because the Democrats have gerrymandered this state and disempowered the people. The Governor should also cut all funding to pet projects, each as a separate veto item.

In flooding the legislature with vetoed bills, they will be forced either to admit that their bills should not have passed or they will have to waste their precious time saving them. Regardless if they save a bill or two, they will have admitted that their agenda is to pass bills that harm the Maryland citizenry solely to spite the Governor for being Republican.

If the Democrats want to abuse their power, then the Governor is called by the State Constitution to act against them. He needs to stand firm. If he vetoes their costly projects and bad bills, then he will be doing the very job he was elected to do.

The Democrats will blink first, and their abusive control over this state will finally come to an end.

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