When the 442nd Maryland General Assembly convenes Wednesday, Jan. 13, it will be the first time in history lawmakers convene remotely.

With the exception to vote on the budget and other piece of legislation, lawmakers will not interact in Annapolis with constituents, lobbyists, interns and even some staff. Committee meetings and public hearings will be held virtually.

“I think it will be a very different session,” said Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden. “This is new for all of us. Just like in life, it will throw an audible. I’m urging everyone to be flexible and patient.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced students to receive instruction at home, restricted indoor dining in some jurisdictions and caused some businesses to close.

On the last day of 2020, the state’s Health Department reported about 276,662 confirmed cases and 5,727 deaths. During that time, Maryland ranked 25th and 18th in the nation, respectively. according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 data tracker.

During the 90-day General Assembly session, a possible change may be scheduling hearings on Saturday “because we expect more people to participate in the process, which is good,” Lewis said.

One of the first bills members in the House of Delegates will present deals with police reform slated to come before the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings committees.

A major recommendation would be to repeal the controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Part of the state statute currently allows officers five days to receive counsel and be interrogated for an alleged offense. Other reforms include banning chokeholds and requiring officers to take mental health and behavioral assessments from a licensed mental health professional before being hired.

Another proposal may be to incorporate a use-of-force statute. An officer who violates it could face up to five years in prison for recklessness and up to 10 years in prison if committed “knowingly and willfully.”

Lawmakers also plan to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto issued in May on the $3.8 billion annual Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan. Hogan rejected it saying the state cannot afford additional spending on new programs while spending money to fight a pandemic.

However, Democrats and education advocates say the comprehensive plan provides money to hire guidance counselors, offer mental health and behavioral services for students and expand early childhood.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones will reintroduce the bill to provide nearly $577 million for the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, according to the legislation filed on the General Assembly website.

Lawmakers approved the bill this year to settle a 14-year-old lawsuit and a figure agreed to by the plaintiffs, Maryland HBCUs Matters Coalition, alumni and other advocates.

Because Hogan vetoed the bill for the same reason as the education plan and a deadline to settle the suit by Dec. 1 didn’t occur, the HBCU legislation died and must be resubmitted.

Other measures

Lawmakers will review, discuss and try to approve hundreds of other bills on health, education, government services and the environment.

With the coronavirus pandemic affecting the nation, state Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly plans to propose a plan to provide hazard pay for frontline and health care workers such as nurses, grocery store clerks and public safety personnel.

As a way to boost support, similar legislation will reportedly be filed in the House of Delegates by fellow Prince Georgian Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville.

Augustine said exactly how much funding would be provided in additional pay continues to be worked on.

“During a crisis, which we are in, we need to provide protections to essential workers who have to go to work in order to complete their duties,” he said. “We have asked them to be there for us. We need to be there for them and making sure they are working in a safe environment.”

Another Prince George’s legislator, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, will present several bills during the 2021 session that include implicit bias training for doctors and nurses in the state. A hearing on the bill has already been scheduled for Jan. 26 before the Health and Government Operations Committee on which she serves as the vice chair.

Sen. Melony Griffith (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro plans to file a similar bill in the Senate.

Peña-Melnyk, whose district includes portion of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, sponsored a bill approved last year to incorporate implicit bias training for doctors and other health care professionals who conduct prenatal care services. The bill went into effect Friday, Jan. 1.

“I worked on this for the last seven months,” she said about the new implicit bias training bill. “We need to put on a racial equity lens … to make life better for the Black and brown community. Everyone should be treated fairly.”

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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