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Maryland’s governors will no longer have a role in parole decisions and counties will be banned from entering into agreements with the federal government to hold detainees in their local jails, after a series of veto override votes in the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The Maryland House of Delegates voted 92-46 to override Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto of Senate Bill 202 Tuesday evening, one day after an override vote in the Senate, officially removing the governor from the parole process for people serving life sentences.
Under the legislation, people serving life sentences with the possibility of parole become eligible for release after serving the equivalent of 20 years, accounting for diminution credits. At least six members of the commission must vote in favor of their release.
House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany) argued that the bill allows dangerous individuals back onto the streets, noting that the suspect alleged to have killed 69-year-old Evelyn Player at Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore last month was paroled for violent crimes several times.
“Start thinking about those victims, start thinking about the reality that some people cannot be fixed,” Buckel said. “There are some people — there are some situations — that cannot be fixed, and it’s our job to save those who can be.”
Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles), the only lawmaker to speak in favor of the override on the House floor, reminded colleagues that Maryland was one of only three states that required the governor to approve releases for life with the possibility of parole sentences, which she said inserts politics into the process.
Citing political pressures, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has shifted to supporting the reform to remove the governor from parole decisions, after maintaining a hard-line stance against granting parole during his eight years as governor.
Immigration reforms passed
The General Assembly also enacted House Bill 16, known as the Dignity Not Detention Act, on Tuesday. The bill bans counties from entering agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold detainees in their local jails and prohibits police from asking about people’s immigration status during traffic stops.
In back-to-back debates, the House voted 90-49 to override Hogan’s veto and the Senate enacted the policy on a party-line vote
“By casting a green vote and by overriding the governor’s veto on this, Maryland will send an extremely strong message that we are better than ICE, we are better than this depravity, we are better than for-profit family separation and we stand for the dignity for every single Marylander in this state,” Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, said from the House floor Tuesday afternoon.
Legislators also enacted House Bill 23, which prohibits federal agents from inspecting files containing personal information or photos and facial recognition records for the purpose of pursuing civil immigration proceedings unless they provide a warrant.
The House overrode Hogan’s veto on a vote of 93-44, and the Senate enacted it after casting votes along party lines.
Immigration reform advocates watched the debates from the chamber galleries and cheered after the bills passed out of the House.
“The victory at the State House helps end the terror that immigrants face at the hands of ICE in stamping out private ICE detention and in cutting ICE’s access to immigrant driver data,” Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA Maryland, said in a statement Tuesday. “Better yet, it rejects the governor’s anti-immigrant policies, embracing the truth that immigrants are essential members of the Maryland family.”
Republicans in both chambers argued that the bills are bad policy that keep criminals on the streets during a time of rising crime.
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore) spoke in opposition of House Bill 16, calling the policy foolish at a time when police agencies are understaffed, officers are demoralized and agencies “in many areas, [have] been defunded.”
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) countered that public safety funding has gone up in several jurisdictions — including the city of Baltimore — in recent years and that public safety funding is “not a factor in this debate.”
Democrats also noted that neither bill would interfere with the enforcement of criminal proceedings.
“Let me be really clear: a violation of an immigration law is a civil violation. It is not a criminal violation,” said Del. Wanika Fisher (D-Prince George’s). “We need to stop conflating that immigrant equals criminal because it does not.”
Fisher said the reform would end the practice of profiting off of family separation.
“This bill — the one thing I can tell you it’s saying — is in that the great state of Maryland we do not make money off of Black and Brown bodies,” she said. “We do not make money off of the incarceration of Black and Brown bodies, and I am proud that this [legislature] has said that and I know that this [legislature] is going to say that again by overriding this veto.”
Del. Jefferson L. Ghrist (R-Upper Shore) retorted that America doesn’t “incarcerate folks because of their Black and Brown skin color.”
“We’ve never done that,” Ghrist said, drawing groans from the Democrat-controlled chamber.
In total, House and Senate of Maryland enacted more than two dozen bills Tuesday along party lines.
House lawmakers voted Tuesday morning to override a bill that expands bargaining rights to employees at all of Maryland’s 16 community colleges. Similar bills have been introduced every year since 2014, but have rarely gotten past a first hearing.
“We are overjoyed to see both the House and Senate vote to override the governor’s needless veto. At last, Maryland law will be consistent and afford community college employees the same collective bargaining rights as countless other employees across the state,” said Travis B. Simon, Director of Political and Legislative Affairs at SEIU Local 500.
Other bills that were enacted Tuesday include:
House Bill 278, which will require new positions that qualify for the state’s Job Creation Tax Credit program to pay a local prevailing wage or 150% of the state’s minimum wage, offer career advancement opportunities, provide paid leave and offer employees the right to collectively bargain.
Senate Bill 133/House Bill 319, which would allow local governments to apply the county income tax on a bracket basis. The change could result in lower local income tax rates for the lowest-income residents and higher rates for the wealthiest.
House Bill 1209, which would extend an 8% sales tax applied to ride-sharing apps.
House Bill 1003, which would require the governor and members of his cabinet to notify the General Assembly’s Legislative Policy Committee within 72 hours of executing an emergency contract during a state of emergency.
Hannah Gaskill, Elizabeth Shwe and Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this story.