The Maryland General Assembly will work through the weekend ― and under extraordinary circumstances.
Members have been asked to dismiss their staffs as legislative leaders imposed a mandatory telework policy for all nonessential personnel Thursday afternoon. Access to the State House complex will be limited only to those people who already have a state-issued credential.
House and Senate committee chairmen have been asked to prioritize legislation in their panel “in order to finish critical bills in an expedited fashion,” according to a memo released late Thursday by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).
But the presiding officers did not say whether they planned to end the legislative session, which is currently scheduled to run through April 6, early. One aide said the goal is to keep working until Sine Die.
The House convened for an hour-long floor session Thursday evening, after the leaders shared their memo with their colleagues. But the session was business as usual: Jones did not say anything publicly about her short-, medium- or long-term plans.
“We’re going to try to get our work done. But we’ll see,” House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City) said in an interview Thursday night. “Certainly, with slowing down, we’re slowing down progress, but we’re speeding up our work cause we’re trying to get as much out of here as possible in case we have to stop.”
It is clear that in the short term, lawmakers are going to work on priority legislation, including the state budget, which they must by law pass by March 30. Passing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a major priority of legislative leaders, is also likely on the docket. An expensive plan to renovate the state’s top thoroughbred race tracks is also a top priority.
Del. Samuel Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), the senior member of the House, who has served since 1983, said lawmakers will likely have to sacrifice some of their pet legislation.
“You adjust,” he said. “And you also recognize that given the circumstances, some of the things you worked for for however many days, that seemed to be on the glide path, may not succeed.”
Asked if Republicans believe a truncated session may result in fewer bills getting through that they’d otherwise object to, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) said, “Well, the speaker and the Senate president, the governor, have encouraged us to really just work on essential things. So I think all of us in consensus know that, you know, we need to get our work done and lead constitutionally and we need to get this budget passed. And then we’d all like to return to our families.”
Both chambers are expected to meet on Saturday and Sunday.
The Jones-Ferguson announcement was made just after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) announced sweeping changes within state government to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“In order to fulfill our Constitutional duties and protect the health and safety of all Marylanders, we need to be sure that the Governor has the resources necessary to maintain public health during this extraordinary time,” Jones and Ferguson wrote.
In their memo, Jones and Ferguson said the “good news” is that the precautions announced Thursday are not permanent.
“The more proactive measures we take now, the better Maryland will fare over the weeks to come,” they wrote.