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The Maryland General Assembly is set to conclude its 90-day legislative session today, with most significant work already accomplished and an air of celebration for the first time this term.
Already this session, lawmakers have passed their top priorities into law. On Friday, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) allowed more than two dozen of those priorities to become law without his signature, including a sweeping climate change bill and a ban on the sale and possession of untraceable “ghost” guns.
On Saturday, Democratic supermajorities voted to enact another 10 bills into law over the governor’s vetoes, including the largest expansion of the state’s abortion laws in three decades and the establishment of a statewide paid family and medical leave program for millions of workers.
Also passed already this session was a bipartisan effort to cut taxes — for Marylanders who are retired, rely on regular diabetes management supplies, have young children or need to gas up vehicles — by nearly $2 billion, and a $61 billion windfall of a state budget that funded top priorities and left a chunk of change in the state’s savings accounts.
The agendas for the General Assembly’s final hours — the legislature must adjourn at midnight — are light so far. Lawmakers are set to convene in chambers in the noon hour, and it would not be surprising, depending on the pace of work, to see some members sneak away to Camden Yards to catch part of the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener, with a first pitch set for at 3:05 p.m.
House and Senate committees held voting sessions on Saturday — opting to move along several bills, many of them crossfiles of measures that already passed. The procedural work will give colleagues in both chambers more successful legislation to brag about on the campaign trail in this election season.
But there is still more work to be done.
Among the items that could get final approval on Sine Die are a bill to study strengthening new requirements to disclose police records, a measure that would allow hate crime victims to seek civil remedies, a compromise to increase local budgets for highway repairs, and a bill to set stricter rules for marriage of minors, a measure that has languished in the legislature for years.
Monday represents the first Sine Die in four years — and the first of this legislative term — that will feature any kind of celebratory air in Annapolis. The traditional midnight drop of balloons and confetti as the gavels come down in the House and Senate chambers at the end of session hasn’t happened since 2018.
Sine Die in 2019, one day after the death of House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D), was somber. The House and Senate finished their business half an hour early, and senators joined delegates in the House chamber for a tribute to Busch.
The legislative session of 2020 was cut 2 1/2 weeks short due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Last year the General Assembly was operating under strict pandemic protocols, so there were no celebrations or Sine Die parties.
This year’s session began as the omicron variant was raging, and there were plenty of early restrictions on official proceedings, lawmaker movements, and parties, dinners and receptions. But over the past few weeks, some of those restrictions have been loosened, and with the weather in Annapolis expected to be 62 degrees and sunny, there could be an air of Mardi Gras on State Circle during the afternoon and well into the evening.
Not since the pre-COVID days of the 2020 session have special interests and advocacy groups been able to wine and dine lawmakers in any kind of organized way, and the legislators haven’t had access to the free meals and booze that their predecessors have enjoyed.
At least six lobbying and advocacy firms are hosting receptions throughout the day: Capitol Strategies LLC; Evans & Associates, LLC; Cornerstone Government Affairs; Bellamy Genn Group LLC; High Street Strategies; and an event co-sponsored by the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Cable Television Association of Maryland and Delaware, and lobbying firms Husch Blackwell Strategies, Providence Strategies, LLC, and Manis, Canning & Associates.
The Maryland Government Relations Association is also holding a happy hour for its members.
There will be at least some air of solemnity Monday evening, when a portrait of Busch is unveiled in the House chamber at roughly 6 p.m.