As Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the presiding officers of the General Assembly joined together for a bill signing ceremony in Annapolis on Tuesday, things seemed almost back to normal.
Leaders shook hands with one another. Gone were the masks that marked the 2021 General Assembly session. Stacks of real, paper bills – which, instead, were shuffled about the chamber floors digitally during the legislative session – were passed between the lawmakers for signing.
“It is such a pleasure to be here. It is funny to be here without masks on,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) remarked.
“We can feel the after-times of this pandemic,” he continued, before reminding Marylanders that there is still a long way to go in ending the spread of COVID-19 and encouraging vaccination. “…But we are seeing the emerging promise of tomorrow.”
Despite some signs of normalcy, there were still no crowds of advocates, lawmakers and family members clamoring for a photo behind the leaders as they signed one bill after another. The State House will remain closed to visitors — for a few more days at least.
Hogan, with Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) seated to either side, announced that the leaders had agreed to reopen the State House doors to visitors and tourists starting Friday.
“I think it’s just one more step in the right direction and a return to normalcy after a hard-fought battle against COVID-19,” Hogan said.
Hogan thanked the legislative officers for a productive 2021 General Assembly session and stressed the largely bipartisan nature of the hundreds of bills signed Tuesday.
Jones said she appreciated the partnership between the legislature and the governor as lawmakers moved to “correct some mistakes of the past, overcome the impact of COVID on the health and economy of Marylanders, and pave the way for a more progressive future.”
In 2021, Jones said, lawmakers viewed legislation through “the lens of inclusion.” She said she was particularly proud to sign a bill she sponsored to establish a legal sports gambling industry in Maryland, which includes provisions meant to open up opportunities in that industry to women and minority business owners.
Some of the other bills signed Tuesday were the culmination of years of work, like the repeal of “Maryland, My Maryland” as the official state song, Jones noted.
Before signing the repeal bill, Hogan called it “a relic of the Confederacy that is clearly outdated and out of touch.”
Other bills signed Tuesday were very much a sign of the times, including a measure to extend for two years loosened alcohol laws that allow restaurants, bars and taverns to sell and deliver alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption. Such sales were first allowed during the pandemic state of emergency to help keep shuttered businesses afloat through carryout orders.
The leaders also signed the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act, named for a University of Maryland football player who died of complications related to heatstroke after a 2018 practice. The act allows college athletes to profit from the use of their names and likenesses, and it creates new health and safety requirements in Maryland athletic programs to prevent and treat serious injuries.
Other bills signed into law include measures to expand geothermal energy in the state; address elevated levels of lead in school drinking water; protect state government whistleblowers and close a gifting “loophole;” and allow employers to seek peace orders on behalf of employees who are threatened.
A handful of bills were added late to the signing schedule, including the sports gambling measure. Tuesday’s signing may be the last in-person one of the year.
Hundreds of additional bills await final action by Hogan, with a deadline late next week. Among the items remaining to be signed, vetoed or allowed to slip into law without Hogan’s action are measures that would remove the governor from the state’s parole process, establish a permanent absentee voting list in the state and allow counties to set tiered local income tax rates.