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WAMU: Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot Gearing Up For Possible Legal Fight With General Assembly

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot says the Field Enforcement Division of his office isn’t going anywhere.

Franchot, a Democrat, made his comments Friday after the House of Delegates moved to override a governor’s veto of a bill that would strip the enforcement division from the comptroller’s office and create a new regulatory agency for alcohol, tobacco and gasoline. The new agency will be comprised of five governor-appointed members. Franchot is an elected official.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” Republican Governor Larry Hogan said when he vetoed the bill Thursday. “It’s not necessary, serves no purpose, will waste taxpayers’ money, and disrupts a well-ordered and completely functional regulatory system.”

Franchot, a long-time political friend of Hogan’s, says he will fight the move tooth and nail.

“I am stating emphatically for the record that the enforcement division in the comptroller’s office is going to stay exactly where it is and continue to do exactly the kind of outstanding enforcement work that it already does,” he says.

Moving the enforcement division would disrupt the basic functions of his office and cost taxpayers $50 million over the next five years, Franchot says. Maryland lawmakers who support creating a new agency say that price tag is closer to $4 million.

On top of the hefty cost, Franchot says the bill does not give lawmakers the authority to transfer the policing power of the enforcement staff to the new agency.

“In Maryland law, when you transfer police enforcement officials like that from an agency to another agency, you have to transfer their police power using the criminal code. [Drafters of the bill] forgot to do that,” he says.

The comptroller says he’s not sure what his next move will be, but he’s not ruling out litigation.

Alcohol regulation is a public health and public safety issue that needs to be addressed, says State Senator Ben Kramer, the bill’s main Senate sponsor. The new state agency would largely focus on responding to the public health and public safety risks of alcohol use and abuse.

The bill is set to take effect June 1.

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