The presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly on Sunday said the legislature will adjourn Wednesday due to the outbreak of COVID-19, almost three weeks earlier than scheduled.
It will be the first time the legislature has adjourned early since the Civil War. The session was supposed to run through April 6.
The decision to adjourn “didn’t come lightly,” both House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said during an afternoon news conference in the Miller Senate Office Building.
“It is a critical time in our state’s government and a fragile moment in our efforts to secure our state’s health,” Jones added.
Legislative leaders said working for 3 1/2 more days would enable lawmakers to focus on must-pass legislation — like the operating and capital budgets and an emergency bill to guide how the state will operate during the crisis — but will also allow them to work on other priorities, like major education reform legislation and a plan to provide more funding for the state’s four HBCU’s.
“We’re going to focus and prioritize but we’re going to continue to legislate,” Ferguson said.
In a sign of bipartisan cooperation, House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) and Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford) also spoke at the news conference and expressed their support for the early departure.
“It’s times like this we come together,” Jennings said.
The presiding officers said they expected to return to Annapolis for a special session during the final week in May to tie up loose ends.
“We want to give enough time for the public health crisis to pass,” Ferguson said.
In the meantime, legislative leaders will establish the COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup, which, Ferguson said, “will monitor the effects of the virus and advise the General Assembly in our role as a co-equal partner in government and oversight in law and lawmaking.”
The members of the new workgroup are: Ferguson, Jones, Jennings, Kipke, Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), Senate Budget and Taxation Chairman Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore), Senate Finance Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), Senate Majority Leader Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery), Senator Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Will C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), Sen. Jason Gallion (R-Harford), House Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Middle Shore), House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), House Health and Government Operations Chairwoman Shane M. Pendergrass (D-Howard), House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), Del. Michael Jackson (D-Prince George’s), Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City), and Del. Jeff Ghrist (R-Upper Shore).
The House and Senate shuffled quickly into session immediately after the leaders’ news conference. In the House, lawmakers voted several times to change the chamber’s rules to allow the second- and third-reading votes on Senate bills during the same floor session. While the maneuver allowed several bills to reach final passage in the House, most of them contained amendments that could require further negotiation with the Senate.
By Josh Kurtz and Danielle E. Gaines