ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — In the state’s rich history, the convening of the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly will be unlike any other.
The onset of COVID last year led to the legislature adjourning early for the first time since the Civil War. And this year the State House is physically dotted with plexiglass partitions for safe social distancing. Much of the proceedings this year will still be conducted virtually and there are strict limits on access to the State House complex, even for credentialed media and lobbyists accustomed to building relationships with lawmakers in corridor encounters.
Still, with the pandemic, the legislature has a busy agenda to promote public health and economic security for so many Maryland residents affected by COVID, if not to their health then to their livelihoods.
“We have to support the most vulnerable,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D – Baltimore City.)
“We’ll continue to fight the virus,” Governor Larry Hogan said, “and helping people get the assistance they need.”
Economic relief related to the pandemic could approach $1 billion this session.
Democrats hold super-majorities in both the House and Senate which could pose a challenge to the governor on fiscal matters. Hogan vetoed 22 bills last year, saying they were “irresponsible” spending measures. A multi billion-dollar education measure is a prime target of Hogan’s veto pen.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D – Baltimore County) has made funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) a priority and is hopeful it will get the governor’s approval despite his objections last session.
Avoiding an eviction crisis and shoring up the state’s system for disbursing jobless benefits is another priority. Many households are behind on their utility bills.
Small business is also desperate for relief, a casualty of the pandemic, where grants could help restore profitability. To pay for it, Senate President Ferguson thinks the state may have to delay some long-planned public works projects.
And after a summer where many communities across the U.S. confronted racial strife, legislators are re-examining the role of local police departments in Maryland.
After the expected busy first day of session, it is expected much of the legislature’s work the next few weeks will be virtual. By February, the State House hallways may get busier as the workload intensifies.
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