March 27, 2020 State House Update

The 2020 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly started in a historic fashion with two new presiding officers, Senate President Bill Ferguson, the first new Senate President since January 1987, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the first African-American and first woman to lead either chamber of the Maryland General Assembly. It ended historically with an abbreviated 71-day session due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, adjourning Sine Die on March 18 rather than April 6, the scheduled end of the 90 day session. The shortened session prompted legislators to accelerate the passage of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and to alter the typically deliberative process involved with passing legislation. Despite the shortened session, legislative leaders passed most of their legislative priorities, including landmark public education reform.

Legislators sent approximately 650 bills to Governor Larry Hogan for his signature. Within thirty days after presentation of bills to the Governor, he may choose to sign, veto, or allow bills to become law without his signature. If the legislature decides to override a veto, it can do so in a special session or when the 2021 session commences on January 12, 2021. Since the legislature chose to formally adjourn on March 18 rather than recess, any legislation that did not achieve passage during the regular 2020 legislative session has failed and a new bill would need to be introduced and work its way through a future legislative session.

Pending further COVID-19 related disruptions, the Maryland General Assembly has stated its intent to convene a special session in late May. Legislative leaders have not identified what issues will be addressed in a special session, but after accomplishing most of their legislative priorities during the regular session, a special session will likely focus on overriding any gubernatorial vetoes and other pressing matters related to COVID-19, including budget briefings, etc.

While abbreviated, the 2020 session had no shortage of significant policy changes that affect the Greater Baltimore region’s business climate and competitiveness. In addition to passing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Kirwan Commission) focusing on public education reform, the legislature approved bills to rebuild Pimlico and keep the Preakness in Baltimore, provide aid to Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities, enact measures that improve public safety, authorize sports betting to be placed on the 2020 ballot, fund school construction projects, and increase taxes on tobacco, digital products, and online advertising.

The Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) commends President Ferguson, Speaker Jones, and the entire Maryland General Assembly for their actions during the unprecedented challenges faced in the 2020 session. While the GBC opposed some of the measures passed during the waning days of the abbreviated session, the Maryland General Assembly led by its legislative leaders were able to accomplish a tremendous amount to move Maryland forward under difficult circumstances.