The last day of the Maryland General Assembly, known as “Sine Die,” usually showcases lawmakers who celebrate the end of the 90-day session of debating, deleting and approving thousands of pieces of legislation.
At midnight, high school students who work as pages drop balloons and confetti inside both chambers from upstairs.
But on Monday, a somber mood permeated the state capital, as many mourned the death of the state’s longest-serving House speaker.
Michael Busch, 72, died Sunday at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore of pneumonia following complications from a 2017 liver transplant.
Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), who also serves as speaker pro tem, hugged Busch’s wife and their two daughters, who received a standing ovation. Black bunting and white flowers covered part of the rostrum to honor the man called “coach,” “mentor,” “friend” and “our speaker,” as lawmakers told personal and professional stories of Busch’s wide-ranging influence.
Del. Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City) said Busch stayed the entire time at his grandson’s funeral and even had a state trooper stay alongside Branch.
“An unbelievable man with an unbelievable heart,” he said.
Busch, of Anne Arundel County, even garnered respect from Republicans.
Minority Leader Nick Kipke, a fellow Anne Arundel County resident, said Busch remembered Kipke’s father, who helped defeat the high school football team Busch coached.
“Initially I thought this connection might help down there [in Annapolis],” Kipke quipped. “But obviously, he never forgot about losing that game.”
Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Landover, who also serves as vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, confirmed a new speaker wouldn’t be chosen until after Busch’s funeral. A special session would need to held to choose a person, but Lewis said that could take up to several weeks.
As for approval of last-minute legislation Monday, the Senate conducted its first order of business: a 29-16 vote to override a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan to create oyster sanctuaries in five tributaries in the Chesapeake Bay, a Busch-sponsored piece of legislation.
“We need to proceed as best we can in his honor,” said Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who described his longtime friend and colleague as a “very decent, compassionate man.”
Lawmakers also passed another Busch priority to revamp the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors which has faced scrutiny after allegations of personal conduct.
Although news reports published many of the board members used connections for personal financial gain, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh received the biggest outcry that included a $500,000 contract for self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books.
Pugh said through a spokesman Saturday, April 6 that she plans to return to office after she recovers from a case of pneumonia.
But on Monday, the Baltimore City delegation held an impromptu press conference to also call for Pugh’s resignation. The city council also requested the mayor step down.
“We would encourage her to reconsider that position because we do not believe it’s in the best interest for the city of Baltimore,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, as members of the city’s delegation stood behind her in the State House. “The position of mayor is not a revolving door. We need some continuity in the city of Baltimore.”
The majority-Democratic legislature passed a plethora of bills at the session’s close, such as gradually increasing the state’s minimum hourly wage to $15, a nearly $1 billion, two-year education plan, and banning the sale of polystyrene service products, or items sold in foam cups, containers and food packages.
Prince George’s County saw a change in statewide leadership.
Del. Michael A. Jackson, a Democrat who represents portions of Prince George’s and Calvert counties, served as the new chair of the Prince George’s House delegation. He worked alongside leadership elected in November: County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and six of the 11 members on the County Council.
Although a county bill to authorize a $25 million school construction fund, lawmakers did approve for Prince George’s officials to start another fund for a similar effort. A report released last month from a transition team for Alsobrooks outlines nearly $1 billion in school construction over a seven-year period through public and private partnerships.
“With all the new [leadership] coming in I think we did a terrific job,” Jackson said. “We had an active session and plan to come back next year and do more.”
This year’s legislature saw a record 72 women serving in office, with several new lawmakers such as Del. Lily Qi (D-Montgomery County), an Asian American who immigrated from China and celebrated 30 years as a U.S. citizen during the session Feb. 22.
Qi will try again next year to rally support for legislation to ease restrictions for unaffiliated or independent voters to partake in future primary elections by allowing them to change their political affiliation to Democrat or Republican.
“I think all the new delegates are still trying to find out where they can offer value,” Qi said Monday. “I know pushing for change is not comfortable for some people. Change usually takes time.”