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What is sine die?

Tonight at midnight, or shortly before, the majority leaders of the Maryland House and Senate will rise and speak what many in Annapolis consider the sweetest words in Latin.

Sine die.

Literal translation: “without setting a date for future action.” Practical translation: “Thank God, it's over.”

After 90 days, the General Assembly will no longer be in session. The members of Maryland's part-time legislature can go home and return to being doctors, lawyers, farmers or whatever they do in the nine months before the annual rollercoaster ride starts again.

What's left for General Assembly lawmakers to resolve on final day? »

Pronounced “SIGH-knee DIE,” it is a bit like the last day of finals before high school graduation: Legislators often have a lot of work to do, but their minds tend to wander.

Sine die can be a stressful and contentious occasion, but the tension is almost invariably mixed with an air of festivity and frivolity.

There will be a lot of lost causes when times run out at midnight, bills that almost made it across the finish line. This is a day when every minute counts, when delay can — and does — mean death for many pieces of legislation.

There was a time when powerful presiding officers would stop the clock at 11:59 p.m. and keep legislating, but the Court of Appeals declared that illegal decades ago.

Last-minute mischief in Annapolis often comes in the form of “snakes” — seemingly innocuous amendments slipped into bills through the connivance of lobbyists and friendly lawmakers.

When midnight arrives and the sine die motion is made, confetti and balloons fall from the gallery.

Often delegates and senators linger to hear a few words of thanks from the governor. But he had better keep it short because the party will be starting soon over in the Senate office building.

For a few hours, drinks will flow as the community that gathers for the legislative session collectively unwinds. Republicans and Democrats, aging senators and youthful staffers, do-gooders, and lobbyists will dance into the early morning hours.

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