Senate President Bill Ferguson kicked off the final day of the 442nd session of the Maryland General Assembly on Monday afternoon by expressing gratitude that this year, unlike last year, the coronavirus pandemic did not stop lawmakers from completing the regular 90-day legislative session.
“We made it,” Ferguson said in a floor speech. “There were many nights where I thought that wouldn’t be the case, especially before we got here. But we’ve gotten here. And we’ve gotten a lot of really really really important work done for Marylanders.”
Ferguson added: “We fought the virus. We’ve helped to create jobs. We’ve done the work of the people.”
Sen. Benjamin Kramer (D-Montgomery) expressed similar sentiments to Ferguson, saying that many lawmakers did not expect the session to run its normal course.
“There was a lot of speculation and a lot of betting pools that we wouldn’t last more than a week or two before the virus took hold and sent us home.”
The legislature is set to adjourn “Sine Die” by midnight tonight. Lawmakers are slated to return for legislative business in Jan. 2022.
Although lawmakers were able to complete their work, this year’s session was anything but normal.
Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate held floor debates in their respective chambers while safely ensconced in small glass booths. Bill hearings were held virtually rather than in person. The State House was and still remains closed to everyone except lawmakers, staff, and members of the media. The streets of Annapolis surrounding the State House, which are normally bustling with activity, are relatively calm.
The dominant issues of the session were police reform and COVID-19 relief. Other important issues of focus related to education reform, tenant and rental protections, state immigration enforcement, and taxes. Proposals to make the state’s tax system more progressive and legalize recreational marijuana use failed to gain traction. As of this writing, lawmakers are poised to pass legislation to create a framework for sports betting after having forged an agreement over the weekend.
MarylandReporter.com spoke with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to get their perspectives on how the session went.
“This was a session where a lot of big things got done,” Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) said. “I think that we listened to the people’s voice, the voice of people who needed their voice amplified.”
McCray pointed to a list of legislative accomplishments that include police reform, COVID-19 relief, money for transportation and infrastructure improvements, and record funding for the state’s historically black colleges and universities.
McCray said the sheer extent of legislative accomplishments made during the session are without precedent.
“The things that we were able to accomplish. I’ve never seen a year like this. Or this could be in totality a number of years combined.”
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County) was less optimistic, saying Democrats took advantage of their supermajority status to push through many partisan bills.
“It’s been a paralyzing session, to say the least, because of how the far-left has really pushed their agenda this year. And how they have become so progressive. People know that these police reform bills mean that officers are going to be handcuffed. There are so many taxes that we are going to be getting in the state of Maryland….These are just some of the problems that we are going to be having this year and next year to come.”