As the 2022 session of the Maryland General Assembly comes to a close, MACo offers something of a Q&A to help those seeking to follow last-minute issues as the legislative session winds down. Here, we will try to answer some of the “frequently asked questions” about the terminology and process of what is typically a hectic day in Annapolis.
As always, the MACo office is happy to assist anyone in the county community. But with the sprawled-out day likely directing our policy staff from place to place all day and night long, we hope to give you as much do-it-yourself guidance as possible.
What is so important about the last day of session?
The Maryland General Assembly’s 90-day session is a self-contained process — meaning that any legislation not passed through the entire process and sent on to the governor’s desk by midnight Monday is effectively defeated. A legislator could re-introduce the same idea in a new bill next year, but it would have to start over — a new bill number, new public hearings, etc.
What’s especially important on the last day is that close is not enough. Bills passing the Senate but not the House, or vice versa — are just as dead as those voted down ten weeks ago.
By the last day, does that really mean midnight?
Absolutely. The Senate and House will be meeting intermittently on their main floor and in various committees throughout the day, starting mid-morning and running until midnight on the actual clocks. At that point, the chambers will add Sine die (a Latin term essentially meaning “without the new day” — and almost universally but loosely pronounced in Annapolis as “SIGH-knee-dye”). While some other timekeeping during the session is itself hard to follow (like the use of “legislative days” versus “calendar days”) as a means to allow procedural solutions to certain constraints, the midnight call of sine die is right on time, and absolutely the last word for the 90-day session.
How can I follow along online?
The General Assembly website is an excellent portal for public information about bill actions and livestreams floor sessions, committee meetings, and voting sessions. In addition, information on any bill — searchable by sponsor, number, or topic — is readily available at the top of the main page.
You can also follow MACo’s advocacy efforts on our Legislative Tracking Database.
Of course, if you’re following a county government issue, you are welcome to contact the MACo offices for guidance.
Don’t some bills have to pass? So won’t the session get extended to make sure they do?
While there’s political pressure to pass particular high-profile bills every session, the midnight Monday deadline is supreme. The only exception under the Maryland Constitution is that there must be an operating budget bill passed and enacted into law. Every other piece of legislation, no matter its importance, is defeated at midnight unless it has cleared every step of the approval process. Many bills have fallen one signature short, or seen one final vote not quite called on time, in those final minutes — and such is the process. Try again next year.
Other than just passing or killing bills, what else happens on Monday?
Any bill to pass the General Assembly must be approved in identical form by both the Senate and the House. In many cases, this is pretty straightforward — the chamber of origin works on the bill, perhaps amends it into a form it prefers, and passes it. Then, later in the session, the other chamber looks at the “crossed over” bill and agrees with it, approves the same bill, and that bill is “returned passed” to the original chamber. Many non-controversial bills follow this exact path.
When there is more attention or debate on a bill, the process can become more complicated. What if a House bill gets amended and then passed in the Senate? Then, the two chambers passed the bill, but in different forms.
Possible scenarios include the House simply concurring with the Senate version and granting final passage that that version (shown as passed enrolled on its online bill history). But, when the two sides truly disagree, they often form a conference committee, including a few (usually three) members from each chamber to work out their differences and deliver a conference committee report directly to the floor of each chamber for a final vote on the ultimate and identical version of the bill. Since the two chambers must vote on identical legislation, voting on a conference report is a pure “up or down” vote, with no amendments or conditions possible.
On the last day of session, many bills will be in this process, working toward final passage but needing further work. Delegates and Senators will be meeting in conferences throughout the day and night to wrap up work and get their bills ready for final passage. If past is any guide, any number of these last-minute efforts will make it to the desk of the House and Senate in the waning minutes of the session, with a literal “race against the clock” to determine their passage.
The bill I’m watching seems far away from passing — is it dead?
This is a common perception in this process, and sadly the best answer is usually “it depends.” The practice of bills receiving no final vote at all, even in their first committee assigned, has become increasingly common for a variety of reasons. So, many bills destined to die will sit for most of the 90-day session in the same posture, no action taken, until they die at the end of session (without being passed, they do not become law, even without any votes cast against them).
However, over recent years, there are many examples of bills that seemed to be hopelessly stuck, only to receive final attention and ultimate passage even in the very final hours of the General Assembly session. Sometimes other issues’ resolutions resolved a logjam for the bill previously held up. Other times, the pressure created by the session’s end elevates the urgency for stakeholders and legislators to take final actions. In any case, no actions are truly final until the midnight bells sound, especially the “no action yet” status.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.
More on MACo’s Advocacy:
Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2022 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database
Learn more about MACo’s 2022 Legislative Initiatives
Read more General Assembly news on the Conduit Street blog