Kumbaya or Contention? Sides Differ in Aftermath of ‘Mock’ Special Session

Special Session
Activists called for a special session of the General Assembly at a September rally. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Days after the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly crashed a “mock” special legislative session designed to pressure them to schedule a real one, legislative leaders and progressive activists seem to have a different interpretation of what transpired in an Annapolis field last Wednesday night.

The legislative leaders and the activists have written to state lawmakers and issued short videos offering their spin on what happened.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) turned up uninvited at a mock special session organized by progressives on an Annapolis athletic field ― and snuffed the idea of scheduling a special session before the General Assembly is set to reconvene in January.

But Ferguson and Jones also said they were generally in alignment with the groups’ progressive agenda and vowed to work closely with the activists in the months ahead.

In a letter to colleagues sent Thursday, the presiding officers recounted their appearance at the mock special session and offered their policy priorities for the next few months.

“Yesterday, we stopped by the rally calling for a Special Session this fall,” Jones and Ferguson wrote. “While we were not invited, we thought it was important for the advocacy community ― many of whom are our friends, supporters and family in the struggle ― to hear directly from us why we do not intend to have a special session.”

Then, as they did to the 200 activists assembled on Wednesday night, they laid out their explanation.

“We feel strongly that having a special session this fall would require the General Assembly to act on generational initiatives for Maryland with imperfect information that will only be clear after the November 2020 Presidential election,” Ferguson and Jones said. “This will be one of the most critical federal elections in our lifetimes and will yield radically different landscapes about Maryland’s financial and civic stability for the future. Convening before January 2021 would be a misstep and a disservice to the people of Maryland.”

In the letter to their colleagues, Jones and Ferguson vowed to pass measures in the next session to address these issues:

  • Police accountability and reform;
  • Decoupling from the federal tax provisions and clawing back any unjust funding to corporations;
  • Permanent fixes to vote by mail laws;
  • Improvements to working conditions for workers; and
  • Long-term housing stability.

“Last night, we told these Marylanders to give us a chance and have faith in the hard working members of the General Assembly,” the presiding officers wrote. “These issues are too important to get wrong, and we are confident that by working together we can be successful for Marylanders when we reconvene in January.”

But in his own message to state legislators, Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, one of the groups that organized the mock session last week, suggested that Jones and Ferguson put an overly sunny spin on their impromptu encounter.

He wrote that the leaders’ letter “paints a false picture of harmony and erases the voices of Maryland residents, who were dissatisfied with the statements made by the Speaker and Senate President. This leads us to believe that the Speaker and Senate President’s appearance were not a genuine attempt to engage us and hear from our members as they’ve stated, but instead an attempt to manage PR and shift the narrative.”

Stafford said the presence of the presiding officers at the event last week distracted from its intent.

“Our rally intended to lift the voices of Marylanders impacted by the pandemic and they, not the Speaker and Senate President, should have been the center of attention,” he wrote.

And Stafford then lays out the challenges that “require your urgent attention before January:

  1. Extending a comprehensive eviction moratorium and adding additional funds for rental assistance.

  2. An essential workers Bill of rights to ensure workplace safety, hazard pay, and sick leave.

  3. Overriding the veto on the HBCU settlement. If this veto isn’t overridden before January then the funding the legislature passed will be lost.

  4. Decoupling from federal tax breaks in the Care’s Act in order to prevent revenue losses.”

Legislative committees plan to work on several of these issues throughout the fall.

Click here to see the video released by Jones and Ferguson.

Click here to see the video released by Progressive Maryland.

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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.