1.11.23 – CBS Baltimore –
The 445th legislative session of Maryland’s General Assembly kicked off Wednesday.
The State House website claims that the building is the “oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use.” And on the first day of the session, many of those old traditions continued.
Lawmakers celebrated a new start, and Maryland voters rallied outside to hold the politicians they voted for accountable.
Inside the storied building, history was being made as members of the legislative body were sworn in.
For the first time, both the Speaker of the House, Adrienne Jones, and the Speaker Pro Tem, Sheree Sample-Hughes, are Black women.
“Let me first start off by saying thank you. I am honored to once again have your confidence to preside as the 107th speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates,” Jones said.
Democrats retain control in both the House and the Senate and they are planning to focus on boosting educational support for children who’ve fallen behind because of virtual learning, regulating the sale of recreational marijuana and after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said abortion rights will be on the agenda.
“It is an enormous priority for us to make sure that Maryland women feel protected and safe with their health care needs,” said President Ferguson.
Ferguson said the first bill they will introduce will address crime.
That’s one of the reasons Baltimore lawmakers were also present.
“We are going to work with him, our State’s Attorney and anyone else, federal partners, to make sure we are dealing with
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates said he also wants to review the possibility of increasing sentences related to certain gun crimes.
“The biggest thing we have to do is work collaboratively. Right now when you look at the maximum penalty for illegal gun possession – misdemeanor, it’s a three year penalty; however, if you are between 18 and 21, you are looking at a five year penalty maximum,” said State’s Attorney Bates. “One thing that I would like to do is make sure the penalty is five years across the board for everybody who is in possession of an illegal hand gun.”
Outside the State House, groups who need funding to keep their doors open showed up with their own message.
“So, if you don’t have the funding to do this work what happens?” WJZ’s Ava-joye Burnett asked an official with Baltimore Safe Haven—an organization that assists members of the LGBTQ community.
“And that’s the whole purpose of us being here today is we’re here for you. Be here for us,” Renee Lau with Baltimore Safe Haven answered.
Hundreds of bills will be introduced in this 90-day session.
The Senate President said even though Democrats have the majority, they will be deliberate about working with Republicans to accomplish goals.
Ava-joye Burnett is an award-winning journalist who joined the WJZ news team in January 2016. She is a general assignment reporter.