This year’s General Assembly met to address the usual state business but will be remembered for the actions taken to meet the COVID pandemic. The Legislature found a way to come together to return to a full length session. Last year we adjourned after 71 days, nearly three weeks short of a full regular session.
Just in order to carry on business the House of Delegates changed its meeting rules substantially. It is good to know that tradition can be changed to meet the pressure of a historic pandemic. We changed the rules to allow committee hearings to be conducted publicly on the web. Subcommittee and Committee voting and work sessions were also conducted online. We even changed the rules to allow the introduction of bills on the floor with three elected officials present, the Speaker, the majority leader and the minority leader; and for seventy Delegates to be seated in the Annex. The Annex was a room in the House Office Building with separated desks and a speaking booth connected by video to the House Chamber in the State House.
The legislature addressed the health catastrophe, budget shortfall, and the unemployment emergency that COVID-19 has brought on. The budget was significantly aided by Federal support. The bipartisan RELIEF Act provided $1.5 billion in stimulus funding and tax relief. The bill increased the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides tax refunds to be sent directly to workers in the lower income brackets. Unemployment reform will also provide relief to about a hundred thousand small businesses and nonprofits.
The Capital Budget Bill received overwhelming support, with just three legislators voting against. The bill identifies important capital projects across the state and reviewing the projects feels like taking a tour of Maryland. The Lifesaving Museum in Ocean City, minor league stadiums in Laurel and Hagerstown, and hospitals across the state are examples of projects receiving funding. Both Manna and Nourish Now, food pantries in Montgomery County, received grants. Ellicott City, which has been hit by two destructive floods in the past decade will continue to be helped to be rebuilt. Ivymount School and the Jewish Federation for Group Homes will be aided in providing their essential services.
Under very difficult circumstances Maryland is continuing to provide targeted assistance across the state. Capital funding, unemployment relief, fiscal stimulus, and health reform are all part of the budget passed and laws enacted during the 2021 legislative session. A session that will always stand out for remote committee hearings, use of the Annex, responses to COVID-19, and a return to a 90 Day Session.