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Senate overrides Hogan vetoes

Senators gather for a special session
Joel McCord/WYPR
Senators gather for a special session

The Maryland Senate, meeting in speciaI session this week, overrode most of Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes of bills passed during this year’s regular season.

Most of the votes were routine until a fight erupted over a bill that would remove the governor from having the final say over parole for inmates serving life sentences.

Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, called it a minor step in criminal justice reform that would put Maryland “in line with 47 other states that allow their parole commissioners to be the final arbiters in determining whether a person's liberty should be restored.”

Republicans argued, however, that it was the wrong move in a time of rising crime rates. Sen. Mike Hough, a Frederick County Republican argued that overriding the veto would make “Swiss cheese" of Maryland’s law.

Many states, he said, sentence those convicted of first degree murder to either death or life without the possibility of parole while Maryland has eliminated the death penalty.

“There are only two states in the United States I found that will have a more liberal law on first degree murder than the state of Maryland,” Hough said.

Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Harford County Republican, said the law could lead to murderers being freed in less than 12 years and asked whether that sends a message that “we’re serious about murder in this state.”

“No way. Come on, guys,” he shouted. “This is ridiculous. We've got to take this seriously.”

Carter said the bill “plainly states” that someone sentenced to life for first degree murder must serve 20 years before being eligible for their first shot at parole.

“There are few, if any, people who have ever, ever been recommended for release upon that first meeting with the parole members,” she said.

The Senate failed, however, to override Hogan’s veto of a bill that would have decriminalized possession of needles, syringes and other drug paraphernalia. When that bill, which passed the Senate one vote short of a veto-proof majority, came up, Senate Majority Leader Nancy King, of Montgomery County moved to postpone action “indefinitely.”

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.