Annapolis: Senate Democrats Push Bills in Time to Override Hogan Vetoes

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Democrats in the Maryland Senate on Tuesday passed several pieces of legislation that are largely opposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, most notably a bill that would regulate the parameters for school evaluations and another that would require the state to fund Planned Parenthood should federal funding for that program be lost.

In addition to the Democrats’ package of legislation, both the House and Senate passed the state’s operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year on Tuesday.

The fiscal legislation passed after Hogan, a Republican, agreed to include $23 million for Baltimore City Public Schools in a supplemental budget. The funding for public schools had been a point of conflict in the budget negotiations.

This year’s budget process reportedly went significantly smoother than it did in the past two legislative sessions. The final budget checks in at $43.5 billion and leaves $144 million unappropriated to deposit into the state’s rainy day fund.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said, “I really felt this year for the first time that (Hogan’s) staff worked a lot (and) were more hands on in terms of working with the budget committees; that makes it a lot easier.”

The Senate on Tuesday also took up legislation that the governor has signalled he is likely to veto. With the end of the session approaching, Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Maryland Legislature, needed to pass the bills soon to ensure enough time to override any vetoes during this session.

On Tuesday, Democrats passed the school-evaluation bill; the Planned Parenthood contingency funding; and a bill to preserve sanctuary oyster beds until December 2018. All three pieces of legislation passed largely on party lines.

Another significant piece of legislation, a resolution that would authorize the state’s attorney general to pursue cases against the federal government on a wide range of issues, was delayed to Wednesday. The resolution is widely seen as an effort to challenge policies coming out of the Trump Administration.

With control of Congress and the White House, Republicans have their best chance in years of cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Maryland Democrats in the Senate passed a House bill Tuesday that would require the state make up the potential federal funding loss.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2017 proposed in Congress, aims to remove to Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.’s access to federal funds for one year.

Hogan’s current budget includes $9.9 million for the Title X Family Planning Program, according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis. The designated funds include $6 million in general funds, which satisfies the federal maintenance of effort requirement, and $3.9 million in anticipated federal funds, according to the analysis.

The bill would require the state to make up the $3.9 million lost from federal funding to its best ability, taking into consideration the limitations of the budget, according to the analysis.

The Title X Family Planning Program serves approximately 71,000 Maryland women at more than 75 clinical sites, according to the department’s analysis.

Sen. Gail Bates, R-Carroll and Howard, urged for transparency in the bill with an amendment to require the company to provide a report that breaks down the types of services that are provided. She argued that the report might even provide “comfort” if it confirms that abortions are a minimal percentage of the services Planned Parenthood provides. The proposed amendment failed.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said this information can be found in a Medicaid report. Madaleno also made a point to specify that this bill does not fund abortions, but gives funds to allow Planned Parenthood to continue providing other women’s health services.

Another measure, the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017, would set standards for the plan to improve student outcomes that the state submits to the U.S. Department of Education. The sticking point for lawmakers is that the bill may not sufficiently weigh academic achievement when assessing schools, in which case the state could lose nearly $250 million in federal funding. Furthermore, the bill restricts the state’s ability to intervene in failing schools, which opponents worry is intended to limit the creation of charter schools and voucher systems.

The bill specifies which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality, prohibiting student testing from being one of them.

Republicans opposed the bill largely on the grounds that it undermines school choice and makes it more difficult for students in struggling schools to get an effective education.

Several Republicans expressed concern that the bill would prevent the state from improving struggling schools for several years. Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, attempted a filibuster, but the Democratic majority limited debate after about 15 minutes.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, defended the bill, saying emphatically that it “does not remove charter schools” and that it only prevents the state board of education from approving charter schools without local input. However, he also said that part of the motivation for the bill is a concern that some leaders in the state department of education want to privatize schools, introduce vouchers, and “destroy our public school system.”

The state’s Department of Education could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sen. Steven Hershey, R- Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s, described the bill as part of a “battle between the school board and the teachers’ union” and said he was “not convinced that this entire body knows what it’s doing.” He proposed an amendment that would have delayed the effects of the bill until five other specific states with highly ranked education systems come forward with similar plans; the amendment was rejected.

Madaleno insisted “we are not rushing this bill,” that “this is not a partisan issue, this is not about who is president or who is governor,” and that “this is our one chance to in fact be a national leader to set up the most comprehensive set of standards to determine how schools succeed and how they don’t.”

Baltimore City schools were repeatedly cited as examples of places where students would benefit from being able to move out of struggling public schools and into charter schools or, through a voucher, pay down the cost of a private school.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, defended the Baltimore public school system, saying that “they may not have succeeded to the extent that some would like to see but our efforts are strong.”

In a statement, Hogan said he believes “very strongly that every child in Maryland deserves a great education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in” and that “this legislation would make that nearly impossible.” The governor has said he will veto the bill.

By Jacob Taylor and Cara Newcomer

–Capital News Service correspondent Jake Brodsky contributed to this report.

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