Maryland’s 441st legislative session opened in Annapolis with big changes in both chambers.
In the House of Delegates, Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, started her first full session as speaker. She is the first woman and the first African American to serve in that position.
The House also has a new speaker pro tem: Democratic Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, whose home district includes Dorchester and Wicomico counties.
Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s County, was beaming when he said, “It’s certainly a new day. It’s a new day for all of us, and I just see great things ahead.”
Davis noted that the General Assembly faces debates on big issues with billion-dollar price tags, including education reforms and school construction funding, but said, “Today’s a day for celebration and also a look towards the future.”
On the Senate side, longtime President Mike Miller stood to nominate Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, as his successor.
Miller spoke from the floor of the Senate chamber instead of the president’s podium where he led the chamber for decades. He joked that “I’m right back where I started.”
Miller, who has been treated for cancer, announced his intention to step down as president last October.
Miller emphasized Ferguson’s ability to look beyond parochial issues to serve Maryland. He told his colleagues that Ferguson is well-suited to the top job.
“He’s demonstrated, over and over again, leadership qualities: determination, responsibility, integrity. I want to stress that word integrity,” Miller said.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, stood to second the nomination with a nod to Miller’s hold on power. Miller had been Senate president since 1987, and Jennings said, “We’ve got to get this right. I mean, history shows us we’re not going to do this again until the year 2053!”
After he was sworn in, Ferguson addressed the Maryland Senate, stressing that lawmakers have more things in common than things that divide them.
Ferguson said that in the months since his nomination was made public, he reached out to lawmakers across the state.
“And in each conversation that I had with the members of this body, what was very, very clear — over and over again — was that we didn’t talk politics. We talked solutions,” he said.
Though Democrats in Annapolis stressed their need to find common ground with their colleagues, they also made clear that their goal is to move ahead with plans to reform education and come up with school construction money.
The Kirwan Commission education reform plan, outlined by Democrats, would cost $4 billion a year when phased in 10 years from now. And the school construction plan they favor would pump $2.2 billion into bricks and mortar — money that goes above and beyond current school construction funding formulas.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has outlined his own school reform plans, and said his school construction proposal would put $3.8 billion toward school building over a period of five years.