- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2016

ANNAPOLIS | The Maryland legislature voted Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes on five bills passed last year, including measures to decriminalize possession of marijuana paraphernalia and to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws.

Democrats, who control both the Senate and House of Delegates, provided most of the votes for the overrides, which included restoring funding for an art community center in Annapolis and closing an online hotel-booking loophole for state taxes.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said that overriding the vetoes was not meant to be a personal insult to Mr. Hogan, a Republican.

“For whatever reason, the governor chose to veto these bills and the legislature reaffirmed its commitment to their passage,” said Mr. Miller, Calvert Democrat. “This is not a shot across the bow at the governor. It’s a question of good government and reaffirming the policy that we adopted.”

A sixth bill to restore felons’ voting rights as soon as they are released from prison, even if they are still serving probation or parole, is scheduled for an override vote Feb. 5. The House voted Wednesday to override Mr. Hogan’s veto on that legislation, but senators want to wait, hoping to fill the seat of recently retired Democratic Sen. Karen Montgomery of Montgomery County before voting.

Republicans were particularly irked by the overrides on the hotel surcharge and marijuana paraphernalia bills.

Sen. Robert Cassilly, Harford County Republican, said the attempt to decriminalize paraphernalia twisted the law, making penalties carrying an open container of beer in a car stricter than driving while under the influence of marijuana.

But Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, said opponents were misinformed, saying people would still not be allowed to smoke marijuana while driving.

“What was written about this bill is false,” Mr. Zirkin said. “This is what was written, that Democrats want to override ‘common-sense’ vetoes of a smoking while driving bill and make it legal to drive a vehicle while high. False. So false.”

The marijuana override vote was 29-17 in the Senate — exactly the three-fifths majority needed.

Republicans also accused Democrats of supporting tax increases by allowing the hotel booking fee, and said it was a mistake to approve the fee while lawsuits against online hotel-booking companies are pending in court.

Comptroller Peter Franchot has been spearheading a lawsuit since 2012 against Travelocity over $6 million he contends the company owes the state.

Democrats, though, said the fee isn’t a new tax, but rather is closing a loophole online hotel-booking companies were exploiting. They said the companies were charging uses a state tax but because they were online and did not employ anyone in the state they didn’t pay the money to Maryland.

The legislature also voted on a modest reform of the civil asset forfeiture system, opting to put the burden of proof on the police to prove why they confiscated private property and took ownership of it.

This would change the current system of someone having their property confiscated, then having to go to court to prove it innocent in an attempt to reclaim it.

The overridden bills will become law either in 30 days or on the date the bill specifies it should go into effect, whichever comes later.

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