The office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh released a highly-anticipated opinion on the constitutionality of reconvening remotely or by limited in-person legislative special session during the COVID-19 global pandemic. This came after state leadership, Senate President Bill Ferguson (MD-D) and MD House Speaker Adrienne Jones (MD-D), requested an opinion from the state’s attorney general if a special session conducted with legislative committee hearings and floor proceedings for votes hosted via virtual or remotely is aligned with Maryland’s Constitution
Findings from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office concluded that Article 11, Declaration of Rights in the Maryland Constitution does not allow a session to be held anywhere but Annapolis, unless there is an evident necessity. The statement found that the constitution does not require committee and floor proceedings to be held in-person during the interim session. So as long as there is an alternative, such as a public broadcasting, of such legislative proceedings align with the Open Meetings Act, the legality should not be in question. While the state’s constitution does require there to be a record of yea and nay votes during floor proceedings, using technology to record votes could compensate for in-person recordings. Furthermore, there is a precedent of the Maryland General Assembly hosting a special session outside of Annapolis, the 1861 special session was held in Frederick, Maryland during the Civil War.
Maryland’s legislative leadership has been receiving pressure to reconvene recently from a campaign launch of over 80 advocacy groups. The campaign highlighted that session could not wait until Jan. 13 to reconvene and address protection for workers, homeowners, and renters; Governor Hogan’s HBCU settlement; and the state’s loss in revenue. State Delegate Julian Ivey (MD-D) urges that there be a special session as:
We’re calling for a special session of the Maryland General Assembly so that we can address these issues, so that we can keep people in their houses during this global pandemic, so that we can provide proper PPE and hazard pay for frontline workers, and, absolutely, to deal with police brutality.
With legal support from the state’s attorney general, the tide may have shifted Maryland leadership’s decision to convene before the annual legislative session.