For the past 16 years, Michael Busch laced up his sneakers and ascended a few steps to the front of the House of Delegates chamber to preside over the last day of the General Assembly session.
Known as “Sine Die,” it’s a chaotic day as delegates plow through final votes on hundreds of bills, break out into impromptu committee hearings and hash out debates that have simmered for 89 days.
Monday’s Sine Die will mark the first time since 2003 that Busch won’t be the conductor of it all, following his death Sunday from pneumonia.
Lawmakers are pledging to keep moving forward, even without their leader, who some affectionately called “Coach.”
“Mike Busch would have expected us to keep doing the work of the people, and we’re going to keep doing the work of the people,” said Montgomery County Del. Eric Luedtke, who is chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
“What’s important is that we’re there to do a job and it’s a job the speaker dedicated his life to doing,” Luedtke added. “It’s going to be a sad day, but it’s going to be a day where we continue to do that work.”
For this year’s Sine Die, Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones, a Democratic delegate from Baltimore County, will guide lawmakers through the process of passing bills and finishing their work for the year. She’s been a member of the House since 1997 and speaker pro tem since 2003.
She has stepped into the role of substituting for the ailing Busch in recent weeks, shepherding bills through the legislative process from the rostrum. Busch last led the House chamber March 25.
On Saturday, for example, Jones led delegates in final votes on 63 bills.
“The bill is on third reading and final passage. Are there any amendments to the bill or its title? Is there any debate? If not, the clerk will call the roll,” Jones said.
“Has everyone recorded their vote? Does anyone care to change their vote? If not, the clerk will take the call. There being 138 votes in the affirmative, Senate Bill 809, having received a constitutional majority, is declared passed. The clerk will read the next bill.”
The state Senate has also had a substitute leader at times this session, as Senate President Pro-tem Kathy Klausmeier, a Democrat from Baltimore County, has filled in for Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is being treated for metastatic prostate cancer.
After the General Assembly session ends at midnight, Jones will be called upon Tuesday morning to represent the House at the first post-session bill signing ceremony, alongside Miller and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Jones has had practice with that aspect of the job, too: Last month she sat next to Miller and Hogan as the governor signed a bill into law that creates a way for the state government to give no-interest loans to federal employees who must work without pay during a government shutdown.
Jones could be a contender to become the next speaker of the House, as she’s shown a steady hand in leading the chamber. She’s chairwoman of a subcommittee that handles the budget for state construction projects, putting her in touch with lawmakers around the state who seek the support for projects in their districts.
Other possible candidates include Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, and Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the Economic Matters Committee.
McIntosh and Davis are both experienced, with high-profile leadership roles. Busch chaired the Economic Matters Committee before he became speaker. McIntosh has been a delegate since 1992, while Davis took office in 1995.
It’s not known when delegates will decide on their next speaker. After Monday night’s adjournment, they aren’t expected to be in session again until the next regular session starts Jan. 8. In the interim, Jones will remain speaker pro-tem.
Anne Arundel County Democrats, meanwhile, will need to decide who should fill Busch’s role as a state delegate representing the Annapolis area.
The Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee will nominate a replacement for Busch. Hogan makes the appointment, and he is required to appoint someone recommended by the Central Committee. A timeline for that process has not yet been set.