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Maryland General Assembly leaders: No special session planned

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, left, and Senate President Bill Ferguson, pictured Nov. 6, made a surprise appearance at a rally in Annapolis on Wednesday night to announce that they will not convene a special session of the General Assembly.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, left, and Senate President Bill Ferguson, pictured Nov. 6, made a surprise appearance at a rally in Annapolis on Wednesday night to announce that they will not convene a special session of the General Assembly. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

The leaders of the Maryland General Assembly announced Wednesday that they will not hold a special session, despite calls from activists who want immediate action on housing, policing reform and other issues.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones made a surprise appearance at an Annapolis rally organized to push for a special session. More than 100 participants from groups including Progressive Maryland, Jews United for Justice and immigrant rights group CASA spread out on folding chairs on a grassy area near a school to demonstrate that lawmakers could safely hold legislative hearings and votes.

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Ferguson and Jones said they don’t want to rush any solutions to myriad problems facing Maryland, and want to take the time between now and the next regular session in January to work out policy issues and draft bills.

“We will do right by you. Just give us the chance," said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.

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Maryland’s 188-member General Assembly meets annually for a 90-day session from January through April, but can convene for special sessions outside that time frame.

When the coronavirus pandemic caused the legislature to adjourn its annual session early this year in March, Jones and Ferguson announced plans to return to Annapolis in May. But as the virus spread and public health concerns mounted, that special session was nixed.

In the months since, concerns have only multiplied: housing and food insecurity, health inequities, educational challenges, racial injustice and discriminatory policing among them.

Dozens of advocacy groups — many of them representing progressive and liberal interests — have pushed for a special session. Del. Julian Ivey, a Prince George’s County Democrat, has posted a photo each day of a victim of police violence on social media to underscore his calls for a special session.

There’s been debate over whether lawmakers could legally take votes remotely or away from the State House in Annapolis.

Jones and Ferguson told the group that they plan to address all the issues but that they don’t want to rush anything through a special session.

On policing reform, for example, a House of Delegates work group has met regularly to hear from different sides of the issue, and a Senate committee has three afternoons of public hearings on 15 proposed bills scheduled next week.

“We don’t want to just say we’re doing this because of what happened with George Floyd,” Jones said. “We want to make sure we get it right as it relates to Maryland. You don’t deserve anything less than that.”

Ferguson said lawmakers don’t want to do a rush job.

“We have to do the work and make sure that we solve these problems,” Ferguson said. “The reason we aren’t having a special session is because we need the information. We need to do the work to make sure that when we convene as a General Assembly, we solve the problems that you care about, that I care about, that all of us here tonight are fighting for on an every-single-day basis.”

Their comments were not met with universal agreement. The speaker and president faced some hecklers, and activists said they will continue pressing for a special session despite the message that was delivered Wednesday.

“They came with a lot of platitudes,” said Larry Stafford Jr., executive director of Progressive Maryland.

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Stafford said some issues, including finding ways to prevent evictions and to ensure that essential workers have appropriate protective equipment and policies to keep them safe on the job, are too urgent to wait until January.

“You wait until January and hundreds of thousands of people get evicted,” he said. “There’s very few ways you can reverse that.”

Stafford said his group will conduct phone banks to call lawmakers to urge them to push for a special session.

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