Pandemic protocols mean that the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate will conduct business during the 2021 session in very different ways than previous years. Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones have announced limited floor sessions, fewer witnesses at bill hearings and much of the Assembly and staff working remotely for January and early February.
Although subject to change, at this point the Assembly is expected to convene on January 13, 2021, adopt modified rules that take COVID-related precautions but allow the Assembly to meet its constitutional obligation to convene in Annapolis.
Deadlines for bill requests have been pushed forward, resulting in a higher number of pre-filed bills. More than 700 bills have been posted to the Assembly’s website and committee hearings on these bills will begin earlier than usual on January 14, the second day of the session.
The pre-COVID custom of allowing all witnesses to speak at committee hearings will be limited. House bill hearings will be virtual and generally limited to 50 witnesses. Senate hearings will feature a limited number of favorable, opposed and favorable-with-amendment witnesses selected by bill sponsors, committee chairs and staff. Virtual testimony will be available but may not accommodate all those who wish to speak. All committee dinners and other events have been cancelled.
With senators, delegates and staffers working under modified rules, legislative leaders are signaling that they will focus on a limited number of critical issues related to COVID-19 response and recovery, budget and taxes, criminal justice and education. Sports wagering and other select issues could also become part of the legislative agenda. We will feature those issues in the next edition of NAIOP-MD 360.