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Del. McComas: Leadership should’ve suspended legislative session sooner amid coronavirus crisis

Harford County Delegate Rick Impalleria whispers with Harford County Delegate Susan McComas at the opening of the General Assembly.
Harford County Delegate Rick Impalleria whispers with Harford County Delegate Susan McComas at the opening of the General Assembly.(Joshua McKerrow, staff / Capital Gazette)

Long ago, it was written “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” In these COVID-19 times, no legislator is safe.

On Tuesday, the maximum number of individuals to gather was 10. The legislature is a group of 141 in the House and 47 in the Senate. It is impossible to stay six feet away from each other seated and voting from our small desks. Even though the Capitol was closed to the public, lobbyists and tourists, neither the legislators nor skeletal staff was quarantined to ensure the invisible, contagious, spreading virus has not entered the inner sanctum of lawmaking. To make things worse, the incubation period for the virus can take a week before symptoms show up. People can pass the virus without any symptoms. There was no testing of the assembly; so none, one, or all of the legislators might be carriers. No one knows. The virus can last three days on surfaces and three hours in the air.

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Gov. Larry Hogan decided to end the session three weeks early. Because I am in the high-risk category, I made the difficult decision to forego the last two days of session after having a candid conversation with a medical provider. I believe that the leadership should have suspended session earlier and returned when this crisis abated.

The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate control everything — bills that pass or die in committee, selection of committee chairs and vice chairs, chamber agendas, office assignments, furniture, letterheads and use of the franking privilege. The leadership made the decision to soldier on without the necessary assurance that no one is carrying the virus. We had a number of staff that continued working in order to keep the assembly passing bills — the janitorial staff, bill, mail, and print rooms.

I cannot over-emphasize that this session has been challenging. The freshmen have figured out the system and flooded the committees with bills that ban plastic bags, pesticides, guns, and privacy for police personnel files. The chambers can be hyper-partisan when it comes to gun control, taxes, environmental regulations, law and order, and educational choice.

The most powerful lobbying groups are the Maryland State Teachers Association, the Maryland Trial Lawyers, and the environmental advocates. They have funded the Majority Party for decades in Annapolis.

Police are viewed with suspicion and distrust. This mindset limits the ability to pass rigorous public safety initiatives. There has been a concerted effort to dismiss Gov. Hogan’s legislation and implement the Majority Party’s agenda. The Majority Party is famous for “shadow bills” that take the governor’s ideas and make it their own. So much for bipartisan cooperation.

The Sexual Predator Statute of Limitations HB 794 passed the House unanimously but has not received a hearing or vote in the Senate.

I received a lot of emails opposing HB231/SB530 regarding the source of funds for Section 8 rentals. I voted against it. The House and Senate bills were both passed in each chamber and now go to the governor for his signature or veto.

The good news is both Houses passed SB669/HB1095 to establish a Maryland Prescription Drug Affordability Board to study the cost of drugs and make them more affordable to state and local government and present a plan to the Assembly to lower drug costs.

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I received many emails requesting me to vote against the $47 billion state budget. Constituents were adamantly opposed to passage of the budget due to funds for abortion clinics. I supported budget amendments that deleted any funds for abortion, but the amendments died due to the overwhelming power of the majority party. Although Planned Parenthood has significant contributions by foundations and donors, they still lobby and receive money from state and federal coffers.

I hope that all of my constituents in Legislative District 34B are staying safe in these ever strange and shifting times.

Due to all of the chaos, I am going to change the scholarship deadline to May 1, 2020. Please forward your applications to: Delegate Susan K. McComas, Room 323, Lowe House Office Building, Annapolis, Maryland 21401. The application is on my website www.smccomas.com and then look under local issues for the application and instructions.

Susan McComas is a Republican member of the House of Delegates representing District 34B.

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