The 2020 Maryland Legislative Session Recap

April 1, 2020

An Unprecedented Session for Unprecedented Times

In a first for us and our collective 40 plus years advocating in Annapolis, the 2020 Session of the Maryland General Assembly officially adjourned early, at 5:00pm on Wednesday, March 18th, day 71 of the 90-day Legislative Session.  The early adjournment was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to limit exposure and transmission of the disease.

Plans to adjourn began to take shape as early as March 9th, when the Speaker of the House and Senate President began to take measures to limit public testimony and access.  This quickly progressed to a prohibition on access to the Legislative complex except for Legislators, essential staff and media. 

On Sunday, March 15th it was announced that the Session would adjourn on Wednesday, March 18th.  The race was on to complete work on passing the State Operating Budget (which is a Constitutional requirement) and to prioritize and pass any remaining legislation.

We quickly shifted our advocacy efforts to “new school” and “old school” methods i.e.: phone, fax, email, and virtual conferencing platforms.  We were able to successfully advance many of the key bills and issues important to you despite these limited and uncertain circumstances.

In the end, the Legislature managed to pass 660 bills in these 71 days, including the following of note:

  • The State’s FY2021 Operating Budget (Senate Bill 190) and FY2021 Capital Budget (Senate Bill 191).  These bills not only maintain the day-to-day functioning of the State and continued progress on construction projects, but additional flexibility was given to the Governor to access funds to respond as needed to developments related to the pandemic.
  • State Government – State of Emergency and Catastrophic Health Emergency – Authority of Governor and Unemployment Insurance Benefits (COVID–19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020)”Emergency Legislation to authorize the Governor to take necessary actions to respond to the current healthcare crisis.
  • The much discussed and deliberated K-12 Education reform package consisting of House Bill 1 – “Built to Learn Act of 2020” andHouse Bill 1300 – “Blueprint for Maryland's Future – Implementation”, and a number of revenue generating bills to partially fund the cost of the education reforms, including: increased taxes on tobacco, and expansion of the sales tax on digital downloads and digital advertising.
  • In the health care realm, a number of initiatives passed to address: patient safety, access to care, prescription drug affordability, long term care, increased access to telehealth services,  substance abuse treatment services.  A key priority for the House and Senate was to preserve in Maryland law the protections under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was accomplished with the passage of “House Bill 959/Senate Bill 872 - Health Insurance - Consumer Protection”.

The 2020 Session was destined to be one of change at the outset.  For the first time in almost 35 years the Session convened with new leadership under the helm of Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President William ‘Bill’ Ferguson.  Along with new leadership came new committee assignments, committee leaders and a number of new legislators appointed to the House and Senate to fill vacancies created by resignations, retirements, and illness.  

Looking Ahead:

We will continue to be engaged in the activities of the Governor and his Administration as well as the work of a newly developed Joint Legislative Workgroup on COVID 19.  This is in addition to our participation on the number of established and newly forming workgroups and task forces that will be occurring via phone and web-based media over the coming weeks and months.

There are plans for a Special Session later this Spring, perhaps in May, for the Legislature to reconvene and deal with any matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as overriding any vetoes issued by the Governor.   Maryland’s Primary Elections have been moved to June 2nd.  The Special Election to fill Congressman Cummings District 7 seat will go on as scheduled April 28th but will be conducted by mail-in ballot rather than in person.

Despite the short Session and the frenetic end, there were a number of successful outcomes on legislation and issues important to you.  Over the next few weeks, we will be evaluating the final status of all legislation and preparing your detailed end of session reports.

In the meantime, we will continue to update you as events unfold regarding the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be safe and we look forward to continuing our collective efforts in the days and weeks ahead.