Chaos erupts in House of Delegates as tension grips final moments of General Assembly session
The Maryland General Assembly ended the 2023 session with high drama in both houses Monday night as the final minutes in the House of Delegates devolved into a partisan shouting match, and the Senate president interrupted a motion for final adjournment with a last-seconds vote.
The House of Delegates descended into pandemonium in the final minutes amid a debate over House Bill 1071, which would prohibit police from stopping or searching a person based solely on the odor of cannabis.
The bill came up at 11:48 p.m., and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) called for a voice vote to agree with amendments made by the Senate. She then called for a roll call on the final bill.
“House Bill 1071 is on third reading for final passage. The clerk will call the roll,” Jones said as lawmakers sought to be recognized.
As the yes votes populated the tote board, Democrats the chamber erupted in applause.
“I’d like to explain my vote,” a Republican lawmaker said.
“Yes, but I also know what you’re doing,” Jones responded, as time ticked off the clock.
The speaker limited explanations for how lawmakers were voting to 2 minutes each, with House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) and Minority Whip Jesse T. Pippy (R-Frederick) offering brief remarks.
They said there was a lot of conflict and controversy about the bill and that lawmakers didn’t fully understand what they were voting on.
What followed was a series of appeals from other Republican lawmakers to explain their views on the bill as Jones plowed through with a vote, with other measures lined up for final approval.
After announcing that the bill had passed 101-36, Jones sought to move on.
“I’m trying to get these bills out before midnight,” she said.
For a few moments there was calm before things exploded again.
“I challenge the rule of the speaker,” bellowed Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) from the back of the chamber.
Kipke said his call for someone else to take over the proceedings should take precedence in the ongoing floor session. And followed later with “Have a seat.”
Republicans called for a ruling from the parliamentarian. Kipke and others struggled to articulate what exactly was being challenged.
“Madame Speaker, you need to take a seat,” Kipke said at one point during the cacophony.
Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), a former House parliamentarian, rose to explain the rules and said that a member “may” explain their vote.
The speaker had limited that process and moved on, Wilkins said.
Kipke began again, saying that his challenge to the speaker should take precedence over other business.
Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) began reading from the House Rules book.
Finally, Republicans started walking off the House floor.
With that, Jones beckoned the pages to come forward and asked the protocol chair to recognize the pages.
Finally, she read a message to the Senate that the House was adjourning sine die.
“Happy Sine Die,” Jones said.
The Senate, too, had its own dramatic finish, after Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) had finished routinely thanking members of his staff and the Department of Legislative Services.
Senate Majority Leader Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) stood, was recognized by Ferguson and started the motion to adjourn, when the president’s chief of staff, Sally McMillan Robb, burst through the door and thrust a bill folder onto the rostrum, after a heart-stopping dash into the chamber from the House clerk’s office.
“And I pronounce the Senate of Maryland stand adjourned,” King said, when Ferguson shouted, “Whoa, wha, wha, wha, woah.”
“Or not,” King said.
“We have a message, very quickly, 621, Senate Bill 621,” Ferguson said.
The clerk read the title of the bill, and the sponsor, Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery) stood to concur with the House amendments.
“The bill’s on third reader for final passage,” Ferguson said. “The clerk will take the call.”
The bill passed 43-1. The “nay,” Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), requested his vote be changed to “yea,” which was granted.
“That was impressive,” Ferguson said, smiling.
And with that, the president recognized King to adjourn sine die, and the Senate ended the session.
It was unclear whether Senate members knew exactly what they had just voted on. The bill, in fact, requires the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission to provide an independent evaluation of sports wagering content.
On the House side, the fallout from the finish was bitter.
“It’s unfortunate that our … colleague caused chaos at the end of a successful session and was disrespectful to the speaker,” said Wilkins, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
She said the caucus was demanding an apology to the speaker and the chamber.
Majority Leader Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) estimated that the Republicans ate up critical minutes at the end of the session, time that meant that other bills died without a vote.
“Those 8 or 10 minutes on sine die is significant time in the last rush there,” Korman said. “There’s a lot that gets done in those last 8 or 10 minutes.”
He described his Republican colleagues as being “in a belligerent mood” and “fighting over procedural nonsense.”
One bill that failed in the final moments was House Bill 135, which would have changed penalties for drug trafficking in light of cannabis legalization and increased penalties for gun crimes including trafficking and possession of a stolen gun.
Asked whether there would be consequences for Republicans, Korman replied, “It’s a long time till we come back again, so let’s see when we come back. The speaker doesn’t have to make any decisions about that tonight…. Certainly more bills would have gone through if they hadn’t gotten into a shouting match with the speaker.”
Afterwards, Buckel said Republicans merely wanted to explain their vote.
“I think that the reality is that the Democrats completely control the trains here in Annapolis, and yet they can’t seem to make them run on time,” Buckel said. “And so at 11:45, 11:50, at night, on the last day of session, they have to bring over controversial bills — bills that were not agreed upon.
“There are either rules of the House or there aren’t rules of the House,” he said.
Buckel explained that Republicans walked off the floor because they were told “we can no longer debate and we can no longer explain our votes, then there’s really no purpose in our being here.”
“If we have no voice if we have no ability to participate under the rules, then why would we be here?” he said.
“We have a super-majority Democratic legislature. They can do whatever they want,” he said. “But they got to start communicating with each other a little bit better between the House and the Senate, and figuring it out before sine die at nighttime.”
Jones did not respond to a request for an interview, but her office issued a statement regarding the 2023 session.
“This session started with the goal to build a responsive government that addresses statewide issues and national issues with statewide impact,” the statement read. “We met the goal, and then surpassed it. We’ve taken some of the most significant actions to protect civil rights and expand equity for this generation.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and proud that Maryland continues to be a national leader in advancing Democratic values,” the statement read.
William J. Ford, Danielle E. Gaines, Josh Kurtz, and Bryan P. Sears contributed to this report.