“We’ll work it out” – COVID-19 precautions not stopping Md. lawmakers from kicking off 2021 legislative session
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Legislators got back on the floor Wednesday for the 2021 legislative session. Of course, things will look different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. State Senator Addie Eckardt says while some of the new COVID-19 safey precautions and protocols might take some getting used to, they’re not going to stop legislators from getting their job done. “I’m always game for something new. I think that keeps us bright, fresh, and on the cutting edge. We’ll work it out,” said State Sen. Eckardt.
The chambers in which the Maryland General Assembly convenes are looking much different than what anyone has seen in the past. Each state senator separated by barriers, wearing masks, and social distancing when they get the chance to meet in person. When they’re not meeting on the floor, legislators will rely on Zoom to get the job done. “That’ll be different – working pretty much exclusively from a laptop to do our Zoom conferences. I kind of like Zoom,” said State Sen. Eckardt.
On top of that, legislators must get regularly tested for COVID-19 before getting on the floor. State Senator Mary Beth Carozza says she set aside extra time to make sure she was cleared before the session began. “I came in extra early, had an appointment for my COVID-19 rapid test. I received within the hour the results that I was negative,” said State Sen. Carozza.
For the house of Delegates, they’ll be split into two separate chambers to ensure social distancing. Delegate Carl Anderton says that separation changes the dynamic when it comes to how legislators interact during session. “A lot of the time when we’re on the house floor we communicate with a head nod or a wink. Stuff like that will be gone because half of us won’t be there,” said Del. Anderton.
Though some meetings and voting sessions will happen in person, much of the 2021 legislative session is being conducted virtually. State Sen. Carozza says that’s making legislators think ahead even further than they already do, in order to make sure they have all their materials prepared for future hearings. “We are already working on the testimony to make sure that that is submitted in time so that we will be on track for our hearing on Tuesday,” said State Sen. Carozza.
Despite the unfamiliar territory that local legislators are finding themselves in, they say one benefit is being able to give constituents more transparency in terms of how the legislative process unfolds. “I work for the people of Wicomico County. So they should have full access to what we’re doing in Annapolis. I am excited about that,” said Del. Anderton.
Now that the first day of the 2021 legislative session is in the books, lawmakers will have to wait until Friday to get back on the floor. The House of Delegates will start at 9:30 a.m., and the State Senate will begin at 12 p.m.