Amid a global coronavirus pandemic, the 442nd Maryland General Assembly began Wednesday under the most unusual circumstances in history.
Because of the threat of an outbreak, a new rule passed that allows each legislative chamber to adjourn for three days without notice to the other.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and the other 46 senators conducted business in the chamber, which was partially surrounded by Plexiglas partitions.
With about 105 of the 141 members of the House of Delegates present across the hall, some legislatures sat inside the chamber and some in a “chamber annex” at the nearby House Office Building.
To get the first day going smoothly, both chambers reelected the presiding officers – Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones – to lead the 90-day session.
“I want to thank each and every one of you,” Jones said after being chosen as the speaker. “We’ve got the people business to do, so let’s get started.”
About an hour prior, Ferguson quickly ran through a calendar of 352 bills.
“This is a significantly large number than any other session on the first day,” Ferguson said.
Each lawmaker and limited staff must wear masks inside any building including the State House and House and Senate office buildings.
With the exception to members of the media with the proper credentials, no one from the public can enter the State House. However, people can schedule appointments with lawmakers but on a limited basis.
Lobbyists, activists, local government officials and others aren’t allowed to testify in person on various pieces of legislation. They can testify virtually online with bill hearings scheduled to begin Thursday.
Subsequently, groups such as the ACLU of Maryland held virtual press briefings to summarize its legislative priorities such as restricting the state’s public information act to allow more transparency into police investigations, override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto for lawmakers to approve a multibillion-dollar education plan and ensure those incarcerated who are eligible to vote receive access to the ballot.
A few people such as Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd traveled to Annapolis on Tuesday for lawmakers to approve several proposals that include a stronger COVID-19 stimulus package.
He doesn’t approve Hogan’s economic relief package to provide $450 for individuals and $750 for families to benefit about 400,000 people.
Byrd said the amount should be $2,000, similar to a plan presented by Comptroller Peter Franchot. However, he said the comptroller’s plan should also include adults who don’t have children.
“The people of Maryland are hurting during this pandemic,” Byrd said. “People are unemployed and this money is necessary for people. People need help now.”