Maryland Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith (left) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (right) join Gov. Larry Hogan at the State House in Annapolis on April 21 as the first two Black women serving as presiding officers to sign bills into law. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Maryland Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith (left) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (right) join Gov. Larry Hogan at the State House in Annapolis on April 21 as the first two Black women serving as presiding officers to sign bills into law. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — For the first time in Maryland history, two Black women serving as presiding officers signed bills into law.

Sitting aside from Gov. Larry Hogan, the two women — House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith — joined the governor Thursday to sign 103 bills.

“So we better get a couple of pictures,” Hogan said.

Griffith signed one of her own bills she sponsored for the state which called for the establishment of a Minority Enterprise Business Ombudsman to assist small, minority- and women-owned businesses in the procurement process.

That person, who will ensure accountability, transparency and conduct trainings for procurement officers for the MBE program, will work in the governor’s Office of Small, Minority, and Women Business Affairs. The bill goes into effect July 1.

“I never imagined when I was elected to represent the citizens of District 25 four years ago that I would have the opportunity to sit beside the governor and the speaker and stand in for the Senate [President Bill Ferguson] … to sign bills into law,” Griffith, of Upper Marlboro, said after the bill signing ceremony at the State House. “It was a pretty amazing experience.”

As for Jones, she reiterated the legislature’s work on trying to adjust to a sense of normalcy during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I can’t overstate how proud I am of what we were able to accomplish this session to benefit Marylanders across the state,” she said.

One particular signed bill that goes into effect Oct. 1 deals with renaming Indian Head Highway, also known as Route 210, as Piscataway Highway in honor of the Piscataway Native American tribe.

The highway, known as one of the most dangerous in Maryland because of vehicles crashes and pedestrian fatalities, extends from the D.C. border in Oxon Hill in Prince George’s County and into neighboring Charles County.

The legislation served as one of the last measures sponsored by Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) of Fort Washington, who decided not to seek reelection. On the last day of the legislative session on April 11, he said the name Indian Head is a derogatory term.

“I’m glad we got it done,” he said

Walker didn’t attend the bill-signing ceremony Thursday, but two others did: Jesse James Swann Jr., chief of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, and Julie Tayac Yates, matriarch of the Piscataway Indian Nation.

Swann said he and others worked on changing the highway’s name for at least seven years.

“We’re overjoyed that this has happened. This has been long overdue,” said Swann of Charles County. “Now it’s going to be Piscataway Highway.”

Julie Tayac Yates got emotional.

“Now that this has happened, our ancestors are awakened,” said she while looking towards the ceiling inside the State House. “The spirits lifted on the highway are signing our songs.”

The other bills signed include:

  • The extension the “More Jobs for Marylanders” program through 2027 for businesses that provide manufacturing jobs. Currently, business owners can receive tax credits by enrolling in the program and are certified as a “quality business entity” until June 1 of this year.
  • The creation of a Prince George’s County work group to provide recommendations for County Council on recreation programming, use of facilities and other opportunities away from the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission to another entity.
  • Raising the minimum age for marriage in the state from 15 to 17 and prohibiting 17-year-olds from marrying a person more than four years older.

Meanwhile, Maryland became the second state in the nation to outlaw the practice of declawing cats by a veterinarian.

“Delegates and senators heard from the people of Maryland and made a powerful decision that we will no longer allow cats in our state to endure this cruel, crippling procedure,” Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies of Bethesda, said in a statement. “Amputating the last joints from cats’ toes is excruciating, causing a lifetime of pain and unintended consequences that often lead to cats being relinquished to shelters.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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