Saturday, May 28, 2005

Once again, Marylanders owe Gov. Robert Ehrlich a tremendous debt of gratitude for his willingness to use his veto power in an attempt to prevent bad legislation from becoming law. Once again during the 2005 legislative session, Mr. Ehrlich’s third as governor, Democrats in Annapolis demonstrated that they continue to lurch further and further to the left.

The Democrats, who control the Senate and House of Delegates by majorities of more than 2-1, rammed through legislation that, among other things, would jeopardize jobs, treat homosexuals and unmarried heterosexuals the same as married couples for tax purposes and facilitate vote fraud. For his part, Mr. Ehrlich showed he will not let bad bills pass without a fight.

Democrats need to win 60 percent majorities in both houses in order to override a gubernatorial veto. Here are some of the governor’s most important vetoes, all of which deserve to be sustained:

• The Wal-Mart bill. On May 19, Mr. Ehrlich traveled to Princess Anne on the Eastern Shore, where Wal-Mart is building a distribution center, where he vetoed legislation that would have forced the company to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on employee health-care benefits, contribute an equivalent amount to Maryland’s Medicaid program or pay a $250,000 fine. The bill — which would only apply to Wal-Mart, a retailer that employs more than 10,000 people in Maryland — is widely seen as retaliation for the company’s resistance to organized labor’s efforts to unionize its workforce.

During his visit, the governor rightly warned that the bill jeopardized jobs and economic growth in Maryland. Princess Anne is located in Somerset County, which has a 7 percent unemployment rate, second-highest in the state. Wal-Mart has indicated that if the General Assembly overrides Mr. Ehrlich’s veto when it meets in January, it may reconsider its decision to build a distribution center in Princess Anne that could employ 1,000 people.

• The minimum-wage increase. Despite study after study demonstrating that the increases in the minimum wage jeopardize the jobs of the least-skilled and most-vulnerable workers, the Democrats rammed through the General Assembly legislation increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to 6.15 an hour. As the governor noted in his May 20 veto message, employers “have few options to recover the increased costs imposed by government. They can either pass along these costs to consumers or they can cut their costs by firing their employees.”

• Medical decisionmaking for unmarried couples. The governor also vetoed a bill, heavily pushed by homosexual-rights advocates, that would have allowed unmarried couples — heterosexual and homosexual — to designate “life partners” that would have in essence the same rights as married couples. In his veto message, Mr. Ehrlich quite properly objects to the fact that by treating so-called life partners in essence the same as married couples, the legislation undermines traditional marriage.

m Tax exemptions for domestic partners. Mr. Ehrlich also vetoed a bill exempting “domestic partners” and “former domestic partners” from recordation taxes and state and county transfer taxes. Not only does the bill undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage, the governor said, but it also could allow people to form “so-called domestic partnerships as a tax avoidance technique” and “create significant administrative burdens for Clerks of the Court and county finance offices to confirm existing and former relationships prior to granting the exemption.”

m Absentee voting on demand. Mr. Ehrlich also vetoed House Bill 22, which would eliminate existing requirements for receiving an absentee ballot, such as service in the armed forces, illness or absence from the polling place on election day. The bill permits people to receive absentee ballots without having to provide a reason, and it lacks more stringent requirements for voter identification in the absentee ballot process, such as requirements that ballots be notarized or signed by two witnesses. Mr. Ehrlich is right to be concerned that the legislation would be “an invitation for greater voter fraud in the state.”

Given the present composition of the General Assembly, Mr. Ehrlich will face difficult challenges is sustaining his vetoes. In some cases, they may be overridden. Either way, we fully expect that the governor will use all of the above bills to illustrate the differences between his administration and the legislature next year, when he and all 188 members of the General Assembly will be on the ballot.

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