The Honorable Casper R. Taylor, Jr.
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, I have today vetoed House Bill 57 - Anne Arundel County - Marriage License Fee - Premarriage Education.

House Bill 57 provides than an applicant for a marriage license in Anne Arundel County can receive a $8 discount on the fee for the license if the applicant demonstrates that the couple has completed a premarriage education course within one year of the application. The Anne Arundel County Health Department must compile a list of premarriage education courses offered in the County and adjacent jurisdictions.

Educating individuals about the demands and realities of marriage and parenthood is a laudable and worthwhile goal. Policymakers in Maryland and across the country struggle to manage the complex issues and social problems associated with the breakup of families. Collectively, we need to do a better job preparing individuals for the very demanding and very rewarding journey of forming and maintaining a family.

House Bill 57, however, lacks sufficient details about the requirements of the proposed course, and potentially limits the counseling options available to couples. House Bill 57 applies only to Anne Arundel County, but may serve as a model for other jurisdictions or a Statewide program. It is important that a statute that establishes a fee reduction program linked to the completion of a premarriage education course provides clear guidance to the public and to the administrators of the program as to what courses are acceptable. In my opinion, House Bill 57 does not do so.

A Florida statute offers a reduced marriage license fee for the completion of a "premarital preparation course." Florida Sec. 741.0305. The statute specifies that the course must be at least 4 hours long. Legislation introduced in prior Sessions of the Maryland General Assembly regarding a similar issue (House Bill 601 of 1996 and House Bill 1253 of 1997, both failed) also would have required that a qualifying course be no less than 4 hours. House Bill 57 does not provide direction to local officials regarding the acceptable minimum duration of a course that would allow applicants to qualify for the discount.

More importantly, the Florida statute clearly lists the qualified instructors who can provide the premarriage course. The statute wisely allows individuals to select professionals who are already subject to State regulation (psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and official representatives of a religious organization recognized under Florida law). Each judicial circuit can designate other acceptable providers, and may establish a public roster of course providers in the area. Similarly, a Minnesota bill (Chapter 397, S. F. 884 of 2000), recently vetoed by Governor Ventura, specified that such a course must be provided by a licensed or ordained minister, a person authorized to solemnize marriages under Minnesota law, or a person authorized under Minnesota law to perform marriage and family therapy.

The lack of specificity in House Bill 57 is concerning. Government can have a role in helping to preserve families, and prepare individuals for family life. If government chooses to do so, however, it must proceed in a manner that provides options to the individuals involved, and must respect the decision of the applicants to select a religious or secular counselor, provided that the counselor is qualified to perform the service. While the intent of House Bill 57 may be to provide options to the applicants, and lacks specific details in order to maximize options, I believe the bill leaves too much discretion to local officials to recognize, or fail to recognize, courses for selective reasons. Florida's law demonstrates that it is possible to craft legislation on this topic that provides clear direction and builds upon existing regulatory and religious structures, while preserving the options and respecting the rights of participants in the courses. House Bill 57 does not strike this balance.

Although the bill offers only a small monetary incentive to promote premarriage education, it is well-intentioned. Efforts small and large are necessary to help individuals better prepare to function in a family setting. I am concerned that the bill, as drafted and passed, is silent in too many areas, and may have the unintended effect of limiting the options available to some marriage license applicants in Anne Arundel County. The incentive should apply broadly and encourage many people to participate in this type of course. The law, however, should be sufficiently specific to inform individuals of the acceptable courses, and preserve options for individuals who want to receive quality premarriage education.

For these reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 57.

Parris N. Glendening