Maryland General Assembly closes State House to public, plans to expedite legislation amid coronavirus

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The dome of Maryland’s State House rises above buildings in Annapolis, Maryland, on Nov. 5, 2019. (Capital News Service photo by Elliott Davis.)

Following Gov. Larry Hogan’s Thursday press conference announcing the closure of schools, bans on events of more than 250 people and other emergency measures in response to coronavirus, leaders in the legislature said the State House in Annapolis will be closed to people without state-issued credentials as the Maryland General Assembly continues its work during the session.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) wrote a joint letter to lawmakers and the public announcing the measure and said all non-essential employees and legislative staff should work remotely.

They also asked leaders in both chambers to “prioritize legislation in their committees to the extent possible in order to finish critical bills in an expedited fashion.”

“We have been consulting with public health experts, as well as State and local health officials and the Administration over the past two weeks,” Ferguson and Jones wrote. “As many of you know, we are trying to limit the spread of COVID-19 in order to prevent rapid increases of cases in Maryland.”

Also on Thursday, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, head of the state’s highest court, ordered the judiciary to suspend jury trials from Monday, March 16, 2020 to Friday, April 3. She also

The Maryland General Assembly will work through the weekend and hold floor sessions in both the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate on Sunday, March 15.

Earlier in the day, Ferguson and Jones wrote a joint letter to cancel public gatherings and receptions at the capital and limit public testimony on legislation. Starting next week, only bill sponsors will give in-person testimony for legislation, they said.

Delegates and senators were encouraged to take email testimony from the public and upload it online. These protocols will be in place until the end of the legislative session.

“This was not an easy decision to make,” the lawmakers wrote. “This decision is made for public health reasons – to do everything we can to increase social distancing and do everything within our power to ensure that we can limit the risk of the spread of this virus.”

Ferguson and Jones also advised legislators to limit their attendance at meetings and receptions when they return to their districts.

Officials are also taking steps to make sure the State House complex remains safe as the session continues, they wrote. They advised lawmakers and their staff to frequently wash their hands and practice social distancing as much as possible in the close confines of the capital.

“In these times of uncertainty, we want to emphasize that it is critical that elected officials and members of the public do not panic, and rely on official health sources such as the Centers for Disease Control, and the Maryland Department of Health,” they wrote.

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel


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