By Dan Menefee
The Maryland Senate on Wednesday passed, HB913, the Maryland Defense Act of 2017 – mandating that the administration fund five new attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General to sue the federal government — at a cost of $1 million annually.
The measure passed the Senate 30-15, a veto-proof majority. It is one of about two dozen bills delivered to Gov. Larry Hogan yesterday. He has only six days, not counting Sunday, to sign, veto or let the bills become law. Hogan has criticized the new powers for the attorney general, and is generally opposed to spending mandates.
The legislature would have time to override any veto by the time it adjourns April 10.
The bill was inspired by President Donald Trump’s promises to deport undocumented citizens, repeal Obamacare, impose travel restrictions from Muslim countries and defund the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan, actions that Attorney General Brian Frosh says could threaten the welfare of Marylanders or violate the Constitution.
The bill restates the powers given to Frosh in a joint resolution in mid February, which cannot be vetoed by the governor, but the spending bill can.
Passage of the funding bill Wednesday brought harsh criticism from Republicans in the Senate who recalled the fiscal note citing the “The Office of the Attorney General can use existing resources to handle any litigation initiated as a result of the resolution.”
GOP says Frosh doesn’t need the money
Sen. Wayne Norman, R-Harford, said the funding that followed the resolution was disingenuous.
“I remember the dialogue that took place regarding the financing of these positions [that] it was not going to cost anything,” Norman said. “It was disingenuous.”
Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, argued that there were staff vacancies at the AG’s office that could be reclassified to fill the vacant positions within the AG’s current budget.
“[Frosh] doesn’t need this money,” Edwards said. “He’s got all these vacant positions [and] if it’s so important why hasn’t he filled these vacant positions.”
Edwards said the AG should reclassify positions like other agencies often must to cover current workloads.
“This is no different than what we tell other departments in the state,” Edwards said.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, argued that the current vacancies at the AG’s office were “assigned to a very specific function.”
“The assistant attorney general for the Energy Administration or the Board of Elections is not the person who’s going to be responsible…for litigating on the environment before a federal court,” Madaleno said.