UPDATED: Senate rushes to approve expanded powers of Md. attorney general to challenge Trump policies

UPDATED: Senate rushes to approve expanded powers of Md. attorney general to challenge Trump policies

Attorney General Brian Frosh testifies before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Wednesday.

By Len Lazarick


Over the strong protests of Republicans and a few Democrats, the Maryland Senate quickly gave preliminary approval to a bill to expand the powers of Maryland’s attorney general, allowing him to challenge any action by the federal government that harms the health and welfare of Maryland citizens.

The measure, SJ5, the Maryland Defense Act, was sponsored by most Senate Democrats and its entire leadership and is clearly aimed at the Trump administration.

The bill had a hearing just Wednesday, and was swiftly voted out of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on a party line vote hours later, and then was rushed to the Senate floor, where its Democratic sponsors refused to give opponents a day to look at the proposal and make possible amendments — a common courtesy at this point in the session.

“I know this thing is on a rocket-docket,” said a frustrated Senate Republican Leader J.B. Jennings. “I know this bill is flying out of here.”

But Senate President Mike Miller, one of the sponsors, said “I would like to get this issue behind us as quickly as we possibly can,” calling it a divisive issue. “I want to get this damn thing off the floor,” he said earlier in the debate over the special order.

The motion to special order SJ5 to Friday lost on an 18-28 vote, leading Jennings and eight other Republican senators to walk out in protest. When the bill is brought up on third reader for final approval on Friday, it cannot be amended.

Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh sought the authority because Maryland’s constitution does not grant him broad powers to defend Maryland and its citizens against the federal government, unlike the common law authority of AG’s in most other states.

The legislation explains the motivation in the first two “whereas” clauses:

“The General Assembly finds that the federal government’s action, or failure to take action, may pose a threat to the health and welfare of the residents of the State,” it says. “The General Assembly finds that the State should investigate and obtain relief from any arbitrary, unlawful, or unconstitutional federal action or inaction, and prevent such action or inaction from harming the residents of the State.”

In his testimony, Frosh mentioned the travel ban of refugees from seven countries as a policy he might challenge. He also cited the potential failure to enforce laws and regulations to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay that had been challenged in court by the Trump nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill explicitly mentions “ensuring the availability of affordable health care; safeguarding public safety and security; protecting civil liberties; and preserving and enhancing the economic security of workers and retirees” along with protection of consumer rights, pensions, the environment and “the general health and well-being of its residents.”

The bill also states that the attorney general must inform the governor of any action he intends to take — unless it is an emergency — and the governor may make his objections known but he cannot stop the attorney general from acting.

Besides Frosh, the bill was backed by eight progressive advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, Health Care for All, Maryland Nonprofits, Progressive Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the League of Conservation Voters and Clean Water Action.

“People are really nervous about Trump being in office,” said Jennifer Dwyer of Progressive Maryland.

A companion bill in the House, HB3, is sponsored by the Democratic leaders and committee chairs. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday.

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. FanofAnnapolis

    Thanks Senators! I’m proud, a taxpayer and I’ve got my eyes on the news. God Bless us all.

  2. Mystick

    They made an error… “allowing him challenge any action that harms the health and welfare of the Democratic Party“… because that is how this “expanded power” will be used, and we all know it. It’s obstructionism, plain and simple.

  3. Bumpy Head

    More wasted taxpayer money. It’s time for serious change in Maryland. Those of us paying the most in taxes are more aligned with the movement taking place across America. For once…just once…I wish our elected officials would look out for the people who pay their salary. Can’t wait to retire and move to a state that thinks about the taxpayers. I am tired of being taxed to death to fund leadership that works to screw hard working people like myself to take care of non-contributors. I would like to see a system where every dollar you contribute is a vote.

    • garg654

      Move to Alabama now. What are you waiting for?

    • Taina Litwak

      Oh, that’s a great idea. Not big on Democracy are you? Only the wealthy get a real say in your ideal world?

    • ragboat

      NO, Mississippi is best for you. They have the largest net inflow of Federal funds compared to what they pay.

  4. charlie hayward

    Carte blanche authority could be expensive when put in the hands of this particular AG, given democrats’ blanket opposition to each and every Trump policy change. I hope Hogan will keep a lid on the AG’s budget to curb the AG’s litigiousness, but Hogan’s hasn’t an ounce of fiscal conservatism when it comes to Federal money.

  5. higgy01

    It seems the democrats continue to labor under the mistaken delusion that they still are a force to be reckoned with. Who is to determine what is harmful to Marylanders. When the ACA (obamacare) came into being my health insurance cost doubled. I want to see it appealed and stop subsidizing the loafers. I am totally against “sanctuary” anything even if the political unit (city, county or state) does not use that specific word. It is time the people of Maryland wake up and join the human race rather than continue as the sheeple to the uncaring democrat rulers they have been.

    • Dale McNamee

      And yet, the Maryland voters keeping electing and re-electing the same Democrats who enslave them while convincing them that they “truly care” for them !

      There should be mandatory intelligence and policy and issue awareness tests for all voters and if they fail, they don’t vote !

      Also, only people who pay taxes should vote…

      I’m tired of seeing the ongoing moronicy !

      • Mystick

        Baltimore keeps electing these people. The rest of the state wants nothing to do with them.

      • Taina Litwak

        well, it paying taxes was the litnus test we would not have the dangerous idiot we do fro a President, as he has dodged income taxes for many years. And he sure would not pass even the most most basic policy and issue awareness test either. He gets on the phone with the leader of Russia yesterday and does not even know what what the SMART treaty is. Talk about moronicy! Frightening dolt.

      • ragboat

        Isn’t moronicy a river that runs by Frederick, MD?

    • ragboat

      “loafers” Blam. Dead give away. Nothing subtle here.

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