In theater, we have a time known as tech week when we feel like gods because we create whole worlds in six days, and on the seventh day, we do two shows. I have discovered that this world also exists in the General Assembly and it’s called “crossover week,” when the hopes and dreams of so many legislators and advocates can be made or broken with the single decision of the calendar.
All right, now I’m being dramatic, but as a storyteller, I thought it might be a bit fun rather than focusing on legislation, much of which is covered in the news, to give you a glimpse behind the curtain at the making of a session. I will admit that this first session, I kept my schedule wide open, not knowing how the daily ebb and flow would look. During crossover week, I saw the wisdom of that decision. Much like theater, where we spend a good deal of time in what we call the “hurry up and wait” time, the General Assembly holds hearings at lightning pace, making me grateful for the committee and subcommittee process, which vets the bills so that we are voting on the best product by the time a bill reaches the floor. However, in committee, hearings stretch out into the late hours, and as the days grow longer, the questions grow scarcer as the deadline looms large on the horizon.
Crossover is the deadline by which all bills must have crossed from their originating chamber to the other side to guarantee the bills get a hearing in both chambers. Unlike Congress, which is in session throughout the year, we are in session for only 90 days and we consider close to 3,000 bills per session, so this is an essential first hurdle to surpass if the bill has a hope of becoming law.
In my committee, health and government operations, we found the date advantageous. Some bills that had languished for years found compromise between the advocates as they looked at the possibility that their efforts would stall in committee and go back in a drawer for another year. We always have the interim in which to act, but after enough intersessions, the desire to get it done can make a good bill great in a matter of a few meetings.
There are surprises, floor debates and last-minute emergency bills that supersede the regular calendar, which is more a guideline than a full-stop rule. And, of course, the calendar itself is a bit of a trippy time warp when our phones say it is March 25 and our floor calendars say it’s March 17, giving us a second opportunity for the “wearing of the green.”
As a theater maker, I am fascinated with the process and the rhythm of the work, but as an elected official, seated by the voters of District 33, I am so honored every day to be a part of the drama and of the history we are writing. It is an exhilarating pace at which we work and a grueling schedule, but knowing every day that we are making policy decisions that will have a meaningful, positive impact on the lives of Marylanders is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. Perhaps one day I’ll write a play about it.
Now, back to committee. In the coming weeks, I’ll write more about our legislative victories and retreats, as we are never completely defeated, because as we say in the legislature, “there’s always next year.” My door is always open and I’m always happy to answer a question from a constituent. Now back to committee. We have another few hundred bills to consider before Sine Die!