By BRIAN WITTE Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate voted Friday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a measure to fund a first-in-the-nation state board that focuses on making high-cost prescription drugs more affordable.

It was among more than a dozen veto overrides approved by the Senate in the first week of the General Assembly’s legislative session. They included measures aimed at fighting crime.
The Senate plans to take up additional veto overrides later in the session. The House of Delegates will still have to override the vetoes for the measures to become law.

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Maryland’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board studies drug costs. It is authorized to establish ways to make high-cost drugs more affordable for state and local governments, with the approval of a state legislative panel. The board also will propose a plan to lawmakers on how to make prescription drugs more affordable for all state residents.

The panel was created by legislation in 2019. The bill passed by lawmakers would enable it to raise up to $2 million a year through assessments on drug manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmaceutical benefit managers and insurers. The board has estimated that about 1,400 entities would be assessed under the measure.

“The board has already started its work with preliminary funding and is doing a great job exploring the impact of rising drug costs across the state,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. “And other states are following our lead by moving to create similar boards.”

The veto override passed on a 30-15 vote. A three-fifths vote of 29 was needed.

The Senate also acted on legislation aimed at reducing crime. The Republican governor proposed a crime-fighting package of his own last year that included stronger penalties for violent crime, but Democrats who control the General Assembly supported measures they say take an evidence-based approach to fighting crime.

Crime-fighting efforts have been getting attention by state officials, as Baltimore has had more than 300 murders in each of the last six years.

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One measure would require the governor to include at least $3 million in the state budget each year for a fund to support violence intervention programs at the community and hospital level. Another requires regional policing plans, while a separate measure steers extra resources to areas of high crime.

“What we know is that the bills that were in front of us today are evidence-based to work,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said. “We know that when we have a plan and we use resources in a coordinated fashion that is a positive impact on reducing violence.”

Republicans voted to sustain Hogan’s vetoes. The GOP contends Democrats ultimately failed to include enough of the governor’s proposals that initially were part of a compromise. Republicans also criticized funding mandates without providing a way to pay for them.

“During the 2020 session, Republicans agreed to support these programs as a compromise, because these programs were coupled with bills that would remove violent offenders from the community,” Republican Sen. Robert Cassilly, of Harford County, said in a statement released by the Republican caucus. “In the end, the General Assembly took the pork and rejected the provisions to enhance basic criminal justice and combat violent crime.”

Hogan’s proposals last year included stronger penalties for violent offenders, including mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving guns.

“The governor maintains that the General Assembly should focus on passing crime bills that will actually solve the violent crime problem,” said Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman.

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