The upcoming legislative session in Annapolis will look quite different, as statehouse leaders prepare to keep lawmakers—including Frederick County's two senators and six delegates—safe as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
For Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick), the new delegation chairwoman, that means moving from the House of Delegates' chamber into the the House office building for floor proceedings.
Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll), vice chairman of the delegation, will be operating out of a phone-booth like setup at his desk in the Senate chamber.
Both said they expect less legislation to pass through the state capital, as leadership in the House and Senate have advised delegates and senators to prioritize legislation. Bill hearings will be virtual, and debate on the floor will be limited to shorter periods in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Lewis Young has pre-filed multiple bills this session, including some involving medical and health care issues. One that passed the House last year -- but ran out of time to make it through the Senate -- allows pharmacists to dispense more types of prescription drugs for various types of treatment.
"Most of these new allowances deal with mental illness and addiction ... of course, it was an important issue before, and an even more important issue now," Lewis Young said. "Because along with the pandemic, many people are suffering from increased depression, anxiety and addiction issues."
She has also pre-filed a similar bill that would allow physicians with sufficient permits to directly order oncology pill refills for patients.
This would eliminate the need for those physicians to send a mail order to a mail order firm for the drugs. Lewis Young said she's dealt with issues taking care of her late mother over the past year pertaining getting the necessary medication.
"It streamlines the process and allows for more direct communication between the actual caregiver and the patient," she said.
One of Hough's longtime bills that has made it through the Senate multiple years—but not through the House—is a change that would allow medical marijuana users in the state to purchase, carry or possess firearms, or to be issued a handgun permit.
Hough is introducing that bill again this year and hopes the House actually debates it and passes it. He believes it addresses a conflict between state and federal law, since medical marijuana has already been determined to be a form of medicine in Maryland.
"Practically every year I've put it in, I've had veterans come in who have PTSD, and testified in favor of the bill," Hough said about some of the legislation's possible impact.
He also hopes for passage of another bill that's been introduced in recent years, which amends the state's transportation code.
The bill would prohibit auto manufacturers or factories from preventing dealerships listing "a vehicle for sale or lease on the dealer's website at the purchase price," among other changes.
Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll), in opposition to Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) actions during the coronavirus pandemic, has pre-filed a resolution to end the state of emergency, which was most recently renewed for another 30 days in late December.
Cox said the resolution is to recognize that "one man has been ruling [alone] ... for almost an entire year" versus three separate branches of government operating equally.
He believes that hospitals statewide are not close to capacity—despite recent reported surges in the coronavirus statewide—and that Hogan has abused his power of office since the initial two-week shutdown of many businesses in March.
Cox called Hogan's actions in 2020 "extreme measures that haven't been done before in our history." He also has a pre-filed bill that would aim to limit the governor's emergency powers in state law, in a similar vein to the resolution.
"If you're going to take that kind of an extreme step, then you have the duty as a government official to consult with the legislature," Cox said of the intent of his bill.
Overall, the delegation's leadership said this session, with all the safety protocols in place, is going to require much more communication between delegates and senators.
Typically, lawmakers might bump into lobbyists and other colleagues in between bill hearings and into their respective lounge during floor debates to talk business. Lewis Young said texting and other forms of communication might have to replace that in the House, with a split chamber.
Hough, who begins his first year as Senate Minority Whip, thanked Gov. Hogan and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D) for their work throughout the pandemic.
"In the past, my big view on the General Assembly ... was on my bills and on my committee," Hough said. "And now, I have a little bit bigger of a focus this year looking at the macro issues."