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Maryland governor vetoes 3 police reform bills

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that he has vetoed three police reform measures approved by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, all measures passed with enough votes to override the vetoes.

The Republican governor vetoed legislation that includes the repeal of job protections in the police disciplinary process that have become common in other parts of the country. The House of Delegates voted 95-42 to override the veto of that measure Friday night, with votes to override the other vetoes expected Saturday.

The package approved this week includes a statewide use-of-force policy and mandated use of body cameras statewide by July 2025.

The legislation also includes limits on no-knock warrants. Police could only use no-knock warrants between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except in an emergency.

One of the measures also includes an expansion of public access to records in police disciplinary cases.

Another includes new penalties for cases of excessive force. A police officer convicted of causing serious injury or death through excessive force would face 10 years in prison, under the legislation.

In his veto message, Hogan said he believed the bills would “further erode police morale, community relationships, and public confidence.”

“They will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state,” Hogan wrote.

The police job protections that are being repealed are known as the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. Critics have contended it has long stood as a barrier to officer discipline and accountability. Maryland first enacted it in 1974, and about 20 states have adopted similar laws setting due process procedure for investigating police misconduct.

All of the measures were passed with enough votes to override the vetoes in the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats. Police reform has been a top priority of the leaders in the legislature. The legislative session is scheduled to end Monday at midnight.

“Tomorrow, the Senate will take the necessary action to ensure that we can have safer communities and fairer policing throughout our state," Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat said, moments after the vetoes were announced Friday night.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, named a panel to work on police reform measures in May, after nationwide protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. She sponsored the legislation that incorporated its recommendations.

“I am not someone who hates the police, but over the years I’ve had my own experiences with law enforcement, as have my brothers and my two sons,” Jones, who is the state's first Black House speaker, testified during a bill hearing this year.

Hogan wrote that two measures approved by the legislature would go into effect without his signature.

One of them would create a unit in the attorney general’s office to investigate police-involved deaths and prohibit law enforcement from buying surplus military equipment. The other would enable Baltimore voters to decide whether the state’s largest city should take full control of the police department from the state.

Maryland has struggled with police accountability problems in recent years. Baltimore’s police department entered into a federal consent decree after Freddie Gray suffered a broken neck in police custody and died, sparking unrest in the city in 2015. Lawmakers approved some police reforms the following year, but critics have said they were not enough.

One of the bills vetoed Friday would expand public access to police personnel disciplinary records now shielded under the state’s public information act. It is named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old who died in police custody in 2018 in a rural town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Democrat who lead a workgroup on reforms, mentioned their names and others who have died in police custody in Maryland before the House voted for the first veto override Friday night.

“It's time for police officers who don't follow the proper law to pay the consequences,” Atterbeary said. “It's time that other mothers like myself, other fathers, sisters and brothers don't have to worry about their loved ones when they go off, and are they going to come home when they get stopped by the police.”