Maryland General Assembly nixes special session for May

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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.)

The Maryland General Assembly will not come back for a special session in May as previously planned, a protective measure for lawmakers and staff as the coronavirus pandemic continues, Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson announced today.

The legislative session, which typically lasts 90 days, ended three works early this year as the virus took hold in the state. It was the first time the legislative body adjourned early since the Civil War.

Per The Washington Post, the assembly breezed through about 500 bills in the last days of the session in mid-March. Legislators said they would come back in May for a special session to pass other bills, including additional measures to respond to the pandemic.

“Legislators in every community in Maryland are working to help their constituents through this historic pandemic–and that’s where their focus should remain,” Jones (D-Baltimore County) said in a statement. “After consulting with health experts, this is the best course of action at this time. We will get through this together–with every branch of government working as a team until we can safely return.”

In a statement, Ferguson (D-Baltimore) said the decision “was not taken lightly.”

“This is a matter of balancing the safety of staff, legislators and the public, while ensuring that Legislators can continue their daily focus on serving their constituents and public in battling this virus, and preparing for the Recovery effort.”

Before adjourning, Jones and Ferguson formed a bipartisan Joint COVID-19 Legislative Workgroup to work with the Hogan administration, local health officials, the federal government and local business leaders to respond to the virus.

In today’s announcement, Jones and Ferguson said they would continue to consult with lawmakers on the need and timing of a special session.

The fate of some of the signature bills from the abbreviated session remains unclear.

With state revenues projected to decline by $2.8 billion this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Hogan instituted a spending and hiring freeze in state government and indicated he would not sign into law any bills require new spending.

That potentially imperils the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a multi-billion dollar effort to ramp up school spending, and the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, which authorizes the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million in bonds to build new racetracks at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.

Shareese Churchill, a spokesperson for Hogan, said, “Given our focus on COVID-19, the governor has yet to begin reviewing individual bills, and will make decisions in the coming weeks.”

Representatives for Jones and Ferguson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

According to state law, all bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly have to be presented to the governor within 20 days following the end of the session. The governor then has 30 days to veto a bill, sign it or let it become law without a signature.

A three-fifths vote is needed to override a veto. And if a veto happens after the end of the session, a vote to override can only take place at the next regular or special session.

Brandon Weigel

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