Maryland General Assembly opens with optimism, ceremony as legislators take office for four years

With spouses and children by their sides, Maryland's 188 lawmakers were sworn into office Wednesday.

The House of Delegates and state Senate held simultaneous ceremonies at noon on opposite sides of the State House. While lawmakers are expected to hash out tricky issues over the next 90 days, the first day was largely reserved for celebration and optimism.


House Speaker Michael Busch, who was re-elected to lead his chamber, struck a bipartisan tone in his remarks to the 141 delegates. He encouraged them to share their thoughts, either publicly on the House floor or privately in his office.

“I, as your speaker, will value everyone’s opinion,” he said.

As the General Assembly session begins Jan. 9, Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature is expected to push for a range of progressive proposals — everything from a constitutional amendment to preserve a woman's right to abortion to raising the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

He said lawmakers will work together on issues such as improving education and health care and increasing the state’s minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

“We will go forward with one interest: To do what is in the best interest of the people of Maryland, no matter where you live in this great state,” Busch said.

Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk nominated Busch for speaker, calling him “a person of great integrity” and “a great coach for the General Assembly” — a nod to his experience as a teacher and football coach.

Delegate Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County was re-elected as speaker pro-tem, a position that involves substituting for the speaker when he is absent.


Jones welcomed returning delegates, newly elected delegates and a few who previously served in the House and won election again.

“Whichever way you’re here, we are here as one body, and we’re going to have a great session,” she said.

In the Senate, President Thomas V. Mike Miller was re-elected to his position, as well.

Miller has led the 47-member chamber since 1987 and said he plans to continue, even though he acknowledged that some have asked about his health, which he plans to address in an announcement Thursday. Miller is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, according to two sources.

As Maryland lawmakers got back to work, Gov. Larry Hogan expressed doubts about the wisdom of increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Hogan questioned whether raising it would put Maryland at a disadvantage for attracting businesses. He noted that Virginia’s minimum wage is $7.25.

After his election to the presidential post, Miller singled out many in the audience for praise, while also teasing state Comptroller Peter Franchot with jokes about his hair and his occasional conservative leanings.

Of the session, Miller said he expected much work to be accomplished.

“We’re going to have a very productive session, honestly and truly,” Miller said. “Those who think we’re not don’t know the DNA of the Maryland Senate.”

Miller was nominated for re-election by Sen. Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County and Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore.

“It would be appropriate to say many of us have learned a great lesson from this distinguished gentleman,” McCray said. “He’s had his fingerprints, his mark navigating the Senate chamber for the past three decades, ever since I was 5 years old. There’s no way I could do justice to the monumental issues that he has worked on.”

The new Senate president pro-tem is Sen. Kathy Klausmeier of Baltimore County.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, briefly visited each chamber, welcoming lawmakers to Annapolis.

“We’re anxious to get to work with you,” Hogan told delegates, promising to do so “in a bipartisan way.”

aryland Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot has said that he would not endorse his party’s nominee for governor. And when asked recently by The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board who would get his vote, Franchot went further.

Hogan told senators: “I know all of you came here to get things done. I come from the get-things-done political party. I’ll work with anybody who wants to get things done for the people.”

Visitors swarmed the State House Wednesday morning, including lobbyists and relatives and supporters of state lawmakers. Several lawmakers balanced small children or grandchildren on their laps at their small desks.

Other elected officials also made the rounds, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and county executives. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who was speaker of the House of Delegates from 1979 until 1986, told delegates that they have a unique opportunity to make a difference in Maryland.

“Collectively,” he said, “you can bring about change in this state.”

During the proceedings, Baltimore County Del. Charles Sydnor snapped photos.

“To think that you’re one of 141 people to have the ability to do this is extremely exciting,” the Democrat said.

After the House adjourned, delegates lined up to sign their names in a register to make their positions official — as well as to ensure they would be paid. (The annual salary is $50,330.)

Seventy women won election Tuesday — about 30 of them new to the House and Senate — as part of a surge of woman across the country that shattered glass ceilings for gender, race and religion. Overall, Maryland will see a net gain of seven more women when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Del. Cheryl Glenn is starting her fourth term representing Baltimore.

“It’s always exciting, it never gets old,” the Democrat said.

Glenn is chairwoman of Baltimore’s contingent of delegates in Annapolis, and she said she looks forward to working to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, bolstering the state’s public education system and increasing the minimum wage. She’s sponsoring a bill that would require more of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources.

Delegate Eric Bromwell, a Democrat from Baltimore County, marked his fifth General Assembly opening day.

“No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, this is an exciting time to be here,” he said. “People are excited to show what Maryland can do at a time when we get mixed signals from D.C.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga, the second-ranking House Republican, said the two parties will find common ground where they can.

“I think Maryland’s legislature provides a stark contrast with D.C.,” Szeliga said. “We have a history of working together.”

A moment of levity came in the Senate, when Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, formally relinquished the title of “Baby Senator,” given to him eight years ago by Miller.

Elected at age 27, Ferguson was the youngest member ever to join the state Senate. For years, he said, he hoped someone younger than him would win election and take the title. But subsequently elected members — including Carroll County’s Justin Ready and Montgomery County’s Will Smith, who are just months older — were senior to him in age.

On Wednesday, Ferguson presented a trophy to the new youngest senator, Anne Arundel County’s Sarah Elfreth, who is 30 years old.

“It was an honor and I’m happy to pass it over,” he said.