"See you in September, see you when the summer’s through.”
For those old enough to remember these original lyrics from The Tempos, it is odd this year with the pandemic since none of us have been able to experience the places we might have gone, and life has not been a normal routine. For me, I have been looking forward to going back to the State House in my full-time capacity working for Delegate Michael Malone. I have enjoyed the slower pace of the interim, and with summer over, I love the excitement leading up to session in January.
This interim was busier than usual as our offices became a resource to navigate the unemployment issues that have plagued so many. I know every staff member in the House and the Senate assisted many people who found themselves in a situation not in their control. I hope we helped not only our constituents but also the Department of Labor and Labor Relations with the backlog of requests they have received.
What will session look like this year? Can constituents and interest groups come into our offices to see us and talk about upcoming legislation? I know the process will remain the same because we must follow the historical protocol of the General Assembly, but how to do this safely in this environment is now being developed by the speaker’s office.
With this, I know some fundamental events must still occur for a bill to become law. As an Anne Arundel County delegate, Michael Malone is also a member of the Anne Arundel County delegation, which consists of 15 delegates and four senators. We are located mostly together in the Anne Arundel County corridor of the House office building at 6 Bladen Street. Each office has its staff of interns, legislative aides and volunteers to assist the delegate. We rely on each other to share information in this fast-paced environment. Many times, we work across party lines with much debate and passion and with the utmost respect. Each county in Maryland has its own delegation similar and consistent in its approach like the Anne Arundel County delegation. The days of session are a whirlwind of people and interest groups who swarm our hallways throughout the day. How will it be now?
The Anne Arundel County delegation normally meets every Friday morning during the legislative session. It is open to the public, the press and any organization. At least, in a non-pandemic world, this would be business as usual.
In November, the delegation usually holds a legislative priorities day whereby any local organization can come in to present and introduce themselves. So, what’s the plan during a pandemic? This day is a kickoff of sorts to what priorities the delegation will address during the upcoming session. These priorities will have to go through the same course as any bill by being introduced, assigned to a committee and by having a hearing scheduled. If passed through the committee then onto the House floor, most members will vote in favor of a local delegation bill knowing the majority of the local delegates favor the bill. This is reciprocated when other county’s delegation bills come to the House floor.
For a non-delegation bill, a request from a delegate is sent to the bill drafting office, then reviewed and approved by the requesting delegate. The delegate has the responsibility to “market” the bill by finding co-sponsors. Normally, and intuitively, it is often a good idea to find those delegates who sit on the committees in which the bill will be assigned and heard to get their sponsorship. This year, my prediction is emails, phone calls and Zoom meetings will be the “work of the day” in getting co-sponsors.
What many folks do not know is that so much goes on behind the scenes within the committees during the interim. Where will they convene in January? In Virginia, the Senate met at a science museum and the House of Delegates under a tent outside the Capitol during a special session this summer.
For example, Delegate Malone was asked to serve on a work group during the entire interim for the planning of introducing the Justice Reinvestment Act 2016. In 2016, they met in the joint hearing room monthly, with briefings held for hours and witnesses scheduled to testify. Today, the current work group to which he is assigned is meeting through Zoom. He and a host of other invited delegates worked tirelessly with reviewing research, hearing testimony and holding briefings to assist in developing bills that would eventually go to the committee for public hearings. Each committee has multiple work groups and subcommittees that meet regularly to openly debate, listen, object, and to convince their peers and their constituents why this particular law is important to the wellbeing of our great state. Then the bills are requested to be drafted. Fortunately, the Maryland General Assembly’s website has all current work group meetings linked live via YouTube. We are very fortunate for great technology.
For the upcoming session, there may be a very different way in which the session will be planned, but the behind-the-scenes workgroups, delegations and subcommittees will be well prepared to do business as deemed safe and constitutional.
So, like the students who could not go back to class or college and for those employees who continue to work from home each day, your delegate has been and may be doing the same in the coming months. For January, history may be made in how the General Assembly gathers.
“Have a good time but remember, there is danger in the summer moon above.” Please stay safe.