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Daily Record: Md. bill to strip BPW of role in school construction projects on fast track

ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would strip the three-person panel led by Gov. Larry Hogan of oversight on school construction funding appears to be on a fast track for passage after a Senate Committee approved the bill without a hearing.

The push to pass House Bill 1783 comes as lawmakers consider which bills to deliver to the governor by the end of the day Friday. Hogan would be forced to make a decision on vetoing the legislation and allowing lawmakers to override him before session ends at midnight April 9.

The Senate is expected to come back in for a Wednesday evening session and to give preliminary approval to the bill — a move that could set up a final vote as soon as Thursday.

Republican lawmakers derided the effort, saying it lacked transparency and that the Democratic majority was flouting the rules.

“It appears this thing is on the rocket docket to get this thing out of here,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and Senate minority leader. “We took the committee off the floor and voted it, we had it in Rules (Committee) yesterday, and we’ve done this at ludicrous speed. I guess the question is: Why?”

Drawing particular ire was an impromptu meeting of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which was pulled off the floor during a morning Senate session. The panel reconvened across the hall in a small room where the committee voted on the bill without a public hearing — 24 hours after the measure had been sent over by the House of Delegates.

Sen Robert G. Cassilly, R-Harford, called the fast vote “so offensive.”

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore and Howard counties and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, defended the action, saying the bill was similar to Senate legislation that received a hearing, despite the fact that the House bill had major amendments not contained in the Senate version.

“Technically, we had a hearing on the Senate bill and this is a cross-file of that bill and that Mason’s rules indicate we can consider that bill any way we want to,” Kasemeyer said. “It doesn’t call for, technically, a hearing on the bill.”

The voting session of the Senate budget committee was happening at the same time Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot during a Board of Public Works’ meeting attacked the bill and a provision that would give an expanded Interagency Committee on School Construction sole authority decisions on school construction funding.

“These are the kinds of smoke-filled, backroom actions that cause people to rightly lose faith in their government,” Franchot said during the meeting while downstairs, unbeknownst to him, the Budget and Taxation Committee was voting the bill out to the full Senate. “That’s why people are disgusted with Annapolis.”

Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said last week she amended the bill to remove the role of the board in approving school construction projects because of Franchot’s meddling in local education issues, including air conditioning in Baltimore City and County schools. Franchot was unrepentant.

“So governor, I’m absolutely 100 percent unapologetic for standing up for those kids who were forced to learn in inhumane conditions because of bureaucratic failure and inaction by their legislative representatives,” Franchot said.

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