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Governor says 30 bills aim to curb his power

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan frequently offers a similar complaint about bills Democratic legislators introduce in the Maryland General Assembly — that the bills take away his power as governor. Hogan says this year’s legislative session features more than 30 such measures.

He said one of the worst offenders is a measure passed last week that lets the state attorney general sue the federal government without first getting an OK from the governor or the General Assembly.

The bill is “just one horrible bill out of 30 different individual pieces of legislation that have already been introduced just in this session that attempt to change the rules and to limit my gubernatorial or executive authority,” the Republican governor said during an interview with WBAL Radio on Friday.

Hogan’s office provided a list of 19 distinct bills, 14 of which have identical versions filed in both the House and the Senate, for a total of 33 measures.

And that’s just this year’s list. Spokesman Doug Mayer said it doesn’t take into account all of the bills introduced since Hogan took office in 2015.

“Our office is looking into all of the past three years, and we think the number is closer to 100,” he said.

He said some bills are worse than others.

“There’s a bill this year that greatly changes the way the IAC board, the school construction board is formulated that ultimately takes authority away from the governor,” Mayer said.

He took issue with the fact that the bill lets the governor, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller each appoint three members to the board, called the Interagency Committee on School Construction, or IAC. Busch and Miller are both Democrats, “so it’d be six against three,” Mayer said.

The current board consists of two members of Hogan’s cabinet, as well as two members of the public appointed by Busch and Miller and state superintendent of schools.

Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Prince George’s County Democrat who sponsored the bill, was surprised to learn of Hogan’s objections.

“My bill is designed is to reduce overcrowding in our schools and to repair rundown schools faster,” he said. “What the bill does is encourage innovation and lower costs for reducing overcrowding.”

It aims to create flexibility in the contracting process so that more construction firms can compete to build schools, Rosapepe explained.

He said he spoke with the governor’s office about the bill, and Hogan’s concerns weren’t mentioned.

“He’s expressed interest in trying to reduce school overcrowding and to make our building schools more efficient, having our tax dollars go farther,” Rosapepe said. “So it’s a little disappointing that he’s focused on his power more than he is on what’s good for the kids.”

The bill is one of several on the governor’s list that affects how people are chosen for various boards and commissions. Others cover everything from law enforcement to transit to the budget.

One creates a fund to pay for installing and repairing air conditioning in schools. Another, known as the Maryland Trust Act, prohibits state and local police from enforcing federal immigration law.

Some bills on the list have reappeared in the legislature year after year, since well before Hogan took office, without making much progress. One of these would amend the state constitution to give the legislature more authority in the budgeting process.

“Maryland is unique amongst the states in having a constitutional provision that limits the legislature to only doing line-item reductions in the governor’s proposed budget,” said Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Democrat from Montgomery County who has sponsored the bill each year since 2015.

The bill, if passed by three-fifths of the legislature and approved by voters on the ballot, would let the General Assembly move money around in the budget, without increasing the bottom line.

In 2012, when Democrat Martin O’Malley was governor, then-Sen. David Brinkley was one of two Republican sponsors of the same bill. Brinkley now serves as secretary of Hogan’s Department of Budget and Management.

Miller said these bills aren’t about partisan politics.

“You know, I used to take away [Gov.] William Donald Schaefer’s powers every year. I mean, I took away his powers to make appointments after the election, so between November and January when a new person was sworn in, for example. But when William Donald Schaefer would wave at me, he would not use all of his fingers, believe me,” he said. “It’s a legislature-executive thing, not anything personal, not anything Democrat or Republican.”

Schaefer, a Democrat, was governor from 1987 to 1995.

But history may tell a different story.

“If you return to the most recent Republican governor, which was Bob Ehrlich, there were clear instances of the General Assembly seeking to curtail the governor’s power under Ehrlich,” said Todd Eberly, a professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Among other things, he said, the Democrat-controlled legislature at the time altered the governor’s power to appoint people to the State Board of Elections and to sell state-owned land.

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