Zirkin vows fight to override Hogan vetoes
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By: Bryan P. Sears Daily Record Business Writer May 27, 2015
The chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is vowing to seek overrides of at least two vetoed bills announced last week by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said the General Assembly should move to override vetoes on bills legalizing drug paraphernalia as well as another that would restore the right to vote to convicted felons who have not yet completed parole or probation.
Zirkin called the reasons behind the vetoes, as stated in letters from the governor, “intellectual laziness, which is disappointing.”
“This is not over by any stretch of the imagination,” Zirkin said. “We’re going to create the relief necessary.”
Hogan vetoed five bills — six if you include one House Bill that was identical to the Senate felons voting rights bill — Friday before leaving on a 12-day economic development trip to Asia. The governor was required to make decisions on the vetoes and which bills he would allow to become law without his signature by May 29.
Hogan, in a statement, said he vetoed the voting bill because parole and probation are part of the criminal sentence.
“The fact is that persons released from incarceration on parole or mandatory supervision are still serving their time as a debt to society for their actions,” Hogan wrote.
Supporters of the bill said Hogan’s veto could hamper efforts to register voters for the 2016 city and federal elections.
The governor vetoed the paraphernalia legalization and a bill that would have limited asset seizure and forfeiture by the police at the request of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association and other law enforcement associations.
Hogan, in his veto letter on the paraphernalia bill, wrote that under the legislation “law enforcement would be left with no authority to make a traffic stop if they see someone smoking while driving.”
Zirkin called the argument “factually incorrect” and said police would still have the ability to pull over drivers for smoking marijuana.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, who wrote the letter requesting the veto on behalf of the state’s attorney’s association, said there were concerns about making smoking marijuana in public a civil offense that carried a penalty that was less than drinking a beer in public and for the possibility that courts would throw out cases that resulted from searches of vehicles under the bill.
“This is not going to be about marijuana,” Shellenberger said of potential appeals court cases resulting from the now vetoed legislation. “It’s going to be about a body in the trunk or a gun under the seat.”
Shellenberger noted that courts in states with similar laws have ruled differently on the same issue.
“Which way does the Maryland Court of Appeals go?” Shellenberger said. “I don’t know the answer to that, and, frankly I don’t want to take the chance.”
Shellenberger and other state’s attorneys favored a House Bill that would have made it a criminal act to smoke marijuana in public or in a car in return for doubling the amount of marijuana subject to civil penalties to 20 grams.
“I’d do that deal right now if anybody wants to,” Shellenberger said.
Hogan also vetoed a bill limiting the ability of the police to seize assets believed to be related to drug dealing. The state would be required to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the violation of the controlled dangerous substance law occurred with the property owner’s actual knowledge before the property could be forfeited. Currently, property owners have the burden of proof.
Hogan, in his veto letter said the bill that passed the legislature “would greatly inhibit local law enforcement agencies from pursuing asset forfeiture from drug dealers.”
“You can’t just take someone’s money on a suspicion and keep it without due process for individuals,” Zirkin said. “Why should this be allowed?”
Shellenberger conceded that some law enforcement agencies may have taken advantage of seizure and forfeiture laws but said arguments about government seizures were over-stated.
“The sales job on why this was needed got out of control,” Shellenberger said. “I guess people get to say whatever they want.”
The threat of a veto override is real for many of the bills Hogan vetoed. Some have veto-proof majorities and others are within one or two votes in the House of Delegates.
Shellenberger said his group is also concerned about a potential override and is seeking to prevent that by working with legislators on bills for the next session.
“The legislature should override these vetoes,” Zirkin said of the paraphernalia and seizure bills.
Zirkin added that Hogan has not seen the last of the paraphernalia bill even if an override vote is unsuccessful.
“If we don’t override it, the bill will be back and maybe in a more aggressive form,” Zirkin said.