- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday vetoed several bills that polarized the 2005 General Assembly, including ones that would have granted homosexual couples rights long reserved for married couples, increased the minimum wage and reduced the governor’s executive powers.

“I am confident the decisions made today are in the best interest of good policy, sound government and fiscal responsibility for Maryland’s citizens,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

He vetoed a total of 25 bills yesterday.

The vetoed Medical Decision Making Act would have allowed homosexual couples to register as “life partners,” a status giving them the rights to make medical decisions for their partners, visit each other in the hospital and make decisions about the disposition of a deceased partner’s body.

The governor also vetoed a bill that would have granted domestic partners — including cohabitating homosexuals — an exemption from taxes when adding a partner to a real estate deed. That exemption is now granted only to married couples and family members.

Mr. Ehrlich said the bills would have “undermined the sanctity of traditional marriage as codified by state law.”

He said, however, that he remains “sympathetic to the needs of a mutually dependent couple.”

The veto may end a petition drive led by Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican, to put the act to a referendum on the 2006 ballot.

Mr. Dwyer said the veto will resonate with the governor’s conservative base. “It is the smart thing for the [governor] to do,” he said. “It will show this state that he does care about the moral issues and it will do him well in his ‘06 election bid.”

Homosexual rights groups criticized the governor’s actions, with some vowing to press for lawmakers to override the veto when the legislature convenes in January.

Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, said the veto reflected poorly on Mr. Ehrlich.

“I think it is a sad commentary when a Republican governor who claims to be a moderate kowtows to radical conservative elements,” he said.

The legislature’s Democratic leaders responded quickly to Mr. Ehrlich’s vetoes.

“He has no place for gay families in his vision of Maryland,” said Delegate Maggie L. McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat.

Mr. Ehrlich also vetoed a bill to increase the state minimum wage by one dollar, to $6.15 an hour. The wage is now pegged to the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

The governor said the increase would put the state’s economy at a disadvantage with neighboring states that use the federal wage because Maryland businesses might eliminate minimum wage jobs — typically held by students and teenagers — rather than pay the extra dollar.

Mr. Ehrlich also vetoed a series of bills by the Democratic-controlled legislature to tweak the state’s election laws, including one that would have significantly reduced the governor’s control over appointments to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

“This bill is an example of a disturbing trend of bills being introduced in the General Assembly that would restrict or undermine the executive powers of the governor,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

He also said existing laws governing the board have adequate safeguards to protect the rights of the minority political party and to insulate the election process from undue political influences. The governor said he would appoint a commission to examine and evaluate the election law bills passed this year and make recommendations regarding the election process.

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