ANNAPOLIS — As the final bells rang to summon members into the House of Delegates last Friday, the chamber was suspiciously bare.
About one-third of the chamber was absent.
“All right, lock the doors for the next 10 hours,” Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) joked, before calling upon the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms to help fill the space.
“Mr. Speaker, the women legislators of Maryland!” the trooper belted out, as the doors swung open and female delegates came pouring into the chamber as a red-and-yellow-clad group, celebrating the eve of Maryland Day.
“We’re very fortunate on Maryland Day to have the Women Legislators of Maryland,” Busch said.
That’s the formal name for the General Assembly’s women’s caucus.
As a majority of the women in the House of Delegates clustered on the speaker’s rostrum for a class photo last week, there was a notable Frederick County absence: Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4.
While female lawmakers are presumed to be members of the caucus, Afzali said she’s not a member because she doesn’t pay the dues.
Afzali said she chooses not to take part in the caucus for several reasons. One, she said, is that so-called women’s issues generally apply to the population at large. She also feels that most of the discussion in caucus meetings would likely focus on liberal topics.
“I’m already tortured by the liberal agenda enough in Annapolis,” Afzali said recently.
The caucus membership includes almost all of the General Assembly’s 60 women, including several Republicans. Seven men also belong to the caucus, including Frederick Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3.
Three of the eight members of the caucus’s executive board recently elected for the 2018 session are Republican women:
- Delegate Trent Kittleman, R-Howard, is first vice president.
- Delegate Deb Rey, R-St. Mary’s County, is treasurer.
- Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-Eastern Shore, is an executive member at-large.
Last year, the board had a similar number of Republican members. In the 2015-2016 term, Republican Sen. Susan McComas was the group’s president.
Rey, a Republican who frequently takes part in floor debates in the House, said she enjoys the caucus meetings as a time to speak candidly with other lawmakers.
“I think it’s a good place to really discuss the issues and it’s an opportunity to understand different points of view,” Rey said.
The caucus’s new executive board was announced this week. Frederick Delegate Carol Krimm, D-District 3A, will remain second vice president for a second year.
Krimm said she wouldn’t characterize the caucus’s work as partisan. This year, the caucus focused on legislation on topics including domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, Krimm said.
In the coming year, Delegate Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, said, the caucus will focus on holding more executive meetings and public outreach to highlight members’ legislative work.
The Maryland General Assembly women’s caucus is celebrated as the oldest of its kind in the country and celebrated its 45th anniversary this year.
Across the country, women hold about 25 percent of the seats in state legislatures. In Maryland, women make up about 32 percent of the General Assembly.
Bill signing begins
It will be a bipartisan gathering in the Maryland State House’s governor’s suite on Friday morning. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that a bill-signing ceremony will be held at 9:45 a.m. with Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D).
A list of bills that would be signed was not immediately available Thursday night.
General Assembly leaders presented Hogan with a list of 26 bills that he must sign or veto those bills within six days, not including the day they were delivered (Wednesday) and also excluding Sunday. If the governor takes no action, the bills automatically become law.
The early passage of the bills means that lawmakers would have time to attempt to override any vetoes before this year’s 90-day session ends on April 10.
Hogan signed the first bill included in the list during a private signing ceremony on Thursday. That measure establishes Maryland’s role in a Metro safety oversight board that also includes D.C. and Virginia.
Can’t get enough
One prominent member is coming to Frederick just after the end of session.
Miller, the Senate president, is a featured guest at the Democratic Monocacy Plowman and Fisherman Club’s first event of the year — dubbed “The Legislature vs. Larry Hogan” — on April 18.
To learn more about the event or buy tickets, go to www.frederickdemocrats.org.