Legislature’s COVID-19 Workgroup Set to Ramp Up Quickly

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) on Wednesday discusses the legislature's upcoming work on COVID-19. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Maryland lawmakers left the State House briskly after adjourning Sine Die under the most trying circumstances Wednesday.

But their work isn’t entirely done.

The legislature’s presiding officers envision holding a special session in late May, if the COVID-19 pandemic permits ― presumably to take up vetoes by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and pursue legislation that may be appropriate at the time.

In the interim, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) plan to convene a 24-member COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup, to monitor the state’s public health crisis response and serve as a liaison between constituents and the Hogan administration.

“We still have a lot to do when it comes to addressing the pandemic,” said state Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), a member of the workgroup and the lone public health physician in the legislature.

Work of the committee may take on new urgency after Hogan, Wednesday, announced Maryland’s first death from the coronavirus — a Prince George’s resident in his 60’s who, according to the governor’s office, “suffered from an underlying medical condition.”

Ferguson said the joint committee would begin work in a matter of days. The group would not meet in person, but lawmakers are looking into ways to broadcast the group’s sessions to the public, via conference call or on Zoom ― a chatroom app that continues to grow in popularity as COVID-19 spreads throughout the U.S.

“Members are already hearing from their constituents about a range of concerns about the coronavirus, and I think, to an extent, we’re going to serve as conduits to the governor’s office,” said House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who will serve on the panel.

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), who will also sit on the workgroup, said the lawmakers can augment the work of the executive branch, “making sure the state has the resources that it needs.”

Beyond talking and sharing information, it isn’t clear what the agenda of the workgroup will be at any given time, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Lam said, because that flexibility will enable the panel “to react and react quickly.”

“I don’t know if any of us can give that answer today about an agenda, but it’s a very fluid situation,” he said.

There is also the possibility that workgroup members will produce legislation for their colleagues to consider during the special session that directly addresses the COVID-19 crisis.

“I’m sure they’re not just going to meet for the sake of meeting,” Jones said.

Hannah Gaskill contributed to this report.

 

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.