ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan signed a handful of bills Thursday morning, including legislation to bolster the state’s health insurance market in the wake of federal changes. Meanwhile, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, alongside the Legislature’s Latino Caucus, announced the state is joining 19 others to sue the federal government over citizenship questions on the 2020 census. And the General Assembly overrode two vetoes, including reinstating a measure that would strip control of school-construction funding from the state’s Board of Public Works.
Governor’s bill signing
Hogan, a Republican, joined by House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, on Thursday morning signed companion bills that support the health insurance market in the state.
Among seven signed bills were House bill 1795 and Senate bill 1267, which require the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to apply for a federal Section 1332 waiver.
That waiver offers the state an opportunity to develop affordable, high-quality health insurance while retaining protections of the Affordable Care Act, according to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The requirement essentially establishes a program for reinsurance and forces the state to seek specified federal pass-through funding, according to a state analysis.
At the bill signing, Busch said the first thing lawmakers set out to address in Annapolis this session was healthcare issues.
“If we didn’t act this year, we weren’t going to be able to act at all,” Busch said.
The other legislation signed by Hogan, Busch and Miller included a restriction on the state’s ability to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, requiring approval from the General Assembly.
Hogan said the measure will prevent future governors from “undoing our legacy and strong commitment to clean air.”
Also signed was state’s budget bill, which Hogan said he was proud to sign as it signaled the state’s fourth straight year with a balanced budget. A capital budget bill and annual curative and corrective bills were also passed and signed by the trio.
Two vetoes overridden
The Maryland House and Senate on Thursday voted to override Hogan’s veto of the 21st Century School Construction Act, but not before considerable discussion.
At the Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday, Hogan vetoed and drew an “X” through the proposal that would have stripped power from the panel, which includes the governor, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, both Democrats.
Delegate Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, on Thursday said the override was done “precisely for political reasons.” He defended the Board of Public Works’ effort, particularly on behalf of students and teachers.
Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, led the response from Democrats in the House by scolding the governor’s “circus” display.
“What you saw was theater,” said McIntosh, whose amendment to put school-construction decisions in the hands of a state commission triggered the veto. McIntosh told Capital News Service that the amendment was a reaction to Franchot’s over-involvement in local school decisions.
One after another, House Republicans stood up to criticize the decision to take power from the board.
When the final 90-48 vote was tallied, Delegate Ric Metzgar, R-Baltimore County, had a short message for the yea voters: “You hurt the children today,” he said.
Shortly thereafter, the bill came to the Senate floor. Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, opened discussion by acknowledging the override would likely happen.
“We know where the votes are,” Jennings said. “It’s going to be an override. But, it’s a shame it is.”
The final vote tallied 29 yeas to 15 nays, with one excused vote.
“The people have spoken,” Miller said. “Public schools are important.”
Also on Thursday, the Senate voted, 32-14, to override Hogan’s veto of Senate bill 639.
Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, proposed the legislation, which alters procedures for suspending or dismissing public school personnel, among other changes including hearing requests and guidelines for arbitration.
Later Thursday, the House also overrode the veto, via an 89-49 vote.
Maryland moves to block citizenship question on 2020 census
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, flanked by the Legislature’s Latino Caucus and representatives of other minority caucuses, announced that Maryland would join 19 other states in filing a lawsuit to prevent Republican President Donald Trump from adding a citizenship question to the U.S. census of 2020.
Adding such a question is “intended to drive people underground and prevent them from answering the census,” Frosh, a Democrat, said.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 asked the Census Bureau to reinstate the citizenship question, citing the need for better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in a March letter explaining his decision, said the benefits of the added data outweighed potential consequences — like a reduced response rate.
About 20 percent of Marylanders chose not to respond to the last census in 2010, Frosh said. He expects even fewer will respond if citizenship status is added to the 2020 questionnaire.
Among other functions, the census is used to determine how many representatives each state is allowed in Congress and how much aid states get from the federal government.
Frosh said that adding a citizenship question puts “literally billions of dollars at stake for the state of Maryland.”
Delegate Maricé Morales, D-Montgomery and vice chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus, said there are approximately 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Maryland.
But a change in the census questionnaire could discourage a wider range of Maryland residents — including those with green cards and some American citizens — from participating, Frosh said.
When you deter one person from answering the census, you risk losing an entire household, Morales said. She described a scenario in which a household might have both citizens and undocumented immigrants.
About 15 percent of Marylanders were born abroad, while 11 percent were born in the United States but have an immigrant parent, according to the American Immigration Council.
“We need to be counted, not undercounted,” said Sen. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery and chair of the Legislative Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Caucus. “People of all different backgrounds built America, and we need to go forward, not backwards.”
More than half a century has passed since the U.S. Census included a question about citizenship.
“The census was designed to count all people, regardless of immigration status,” Morales said.