BERLIN — Governor Larry Hogan on Wednesday vetoed a key piece of legislation passed by the General Assembly this year with major financial implications for Worcester County.
House Bill 16, passed by the General Assembly on the last day of the 2021 session, would eliminate the possibility of detention centers in local jurisdictions from housing federal detainees awaiting adjudication in federal immigration cases. Worcester County is one of two jurisdictions in Maryland to contract with the federal government to house immigration detainees.
Since 1999, the Worcester County Jail has housed federal immigration detainees, as many as 200 at certain times and the county’s contract with the federal government is significant. Worcester stands to lose as much as $5 million annually because of the ramifications of the legislation. On Wednesday, however, Hogan vetoed the legislation passed by the General Assembly as part of the larger package of four bills the governor refused to sign into law.
Language in House Bill 16 outlines the legislation’s intent.
“Given implications on foreign relations, immigration enforcement and detention are inappropriate exercises of a state’s police powers,” the bill reads. “Issues of liability, accountability, and cost warrant a prohibition on the ownership, operation or management of detention facilities by private contractors, as well as a phasing out of the involvement of state and local officials in civil immigration detention to the fullest extent permitted under state law.”
The fiscal note attached to House Bill 16 points out the potential financial impact on Worcester and Frederick Counties, the only jurisdictions in the state that contract with the federal government to detain those held in immigration cases.
“Currently, two local governments, Frederick and Worcester counties, receive approximately $5 million in payments to house individuals under a federal immigration agreement,” the fiscal note on the bill reads. “Expenditures decrease to the extent that local jurisdictions no longer provide immigration detention services for the federal government. In Worcester County, the potential decrease in local expenditures could be significant.”
Upon vetoing the legislation on Wednesday, Hogan said state and local jurisdictions should continue to work with the federal government on immigration detentions.
“Local law enforcement should fully cooperate with federal law enforcement, a principle I have consistently upheld throughout three federal administrations led by presidents from both political parties,” he said. “Flawed legislation such as this sets a dangerous precedent regarding the state’s commitment to upholding the law and ensuring the safety of our citizens.”
State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) pointed out Worcester County has provided a safe and secure environment for detainees who are pending processing under federal regulations since 1999. Carozza voted against the legislation when it moved to the Senate. She attempted to exempt Worcester County from the bill at the 11th hour.
“During the Senate floor debate on the legislation on the final day of the session, I offered an amendment that would exempt Worcester County from this law,” she said.
In February, the Worcester County Commissioners sent written testimony to the General Assembly on the legislation’s potential financial impact on the county. Again, Worcester stands to lose around $5 million annually if Hogan’s veto is overruled.
“The prohibition of these services and the resulting loss in revenues would be devastating to the operations of the Worcester County Jail,” the commissioners wrote in the letter. “The Worcester County Jail, and others in Maryland, play a critical role in providing sufficient facilities.”
Maryland Republicans stood in solidarity with Hogan on the veto of the bill, along with other pieces of legislation he vetoed on Wednesday.
“Senate Republicans welcomed the news of these vetoes,” said Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire. “Unfortunately, these bills clearly illustrate how the General Assembly is lurching to the left and bending to the will of progressive advocates who wish to defund the police and make Maryland a sanctuary state. Our members look forward to standing with Governor Hogan and voting to sustain these vetoes.”
During Worcester County Jail Warden Fulton Holland’s budget presentation to the commissioners last month, he said projected ICE revenues were being cut $2.5 million in the coming year. Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said at the time the county needed to plan on losing all ICE revenue eventually, alluding to a potential legislative override next year of Hogan’s veto. As a result, personnel levels will also have to be looked at carefully, he said.
Hogan on Wednesday also vetoed House Bill 23, which would impede law enforcement’s ability to conduct investigations; Senate Bill 420, which would legalize the possession and distribution of heroin paraphernalia; and Senate Bill 202, which would remove the governor from the state’s parole process.