Maryland lawmakers arrived in Annapolis in January worried about a tight budget and full of concerns about children in trouble with the law.

Ninety days later, as they wrapped up their annual session, senators and delegates addressed those issues — and plenty more that cropped up along the way.

Heading into the final hours of the final day Monday, legislators attempted to resolve questions about the long-term future of Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, approving a bill necessary for the state to take ownership of the historic thoroughbred track.

Pimlico’s fate was one of the largest unresolved questions as lawmakers began the day known as “sine die” — a Latin term used for the final dismissal at midnight that roughly means they’re adjourning “without a day” to return.

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Under the Pimlico deal, the private Stronach Group that owns the track will transfer the property to the state. The state will use up to $400 million worth of bonds to renovate the track and open a horse-training facility at a yet-to-be-determined location.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (front left), chair of the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee, led the final votes on a plan for the state to take ownership of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Some senators expressed concerns about approving a massive deal in the waning hours of session; the bill hadn’t even been presented until mid-March.

“It’s not fair to bring this to us at the eleventh hour,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Harford County Republican, as he reluctantly voted yes during a morning committee session. Later, the bill rolled through approvals in the full Senate and then was sent back to the House of Delegates where it got a final sign-off just before 8 p.m.

“Obviously we have been down this road before,” acknowledged Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat who presented the bill on the floor of the Senate. He said the plan will ensure the thoroughbred racing industry continues and the Preakness Stakes Triple Crown race remains in Baltimore.

Lawmakers also approved approving emergency financial aid related to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the near-total shutdown of the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore. The legislation conceived in the hours after the bridge collapse had been tweaked as lawmakers and the governor have discovered more needs.

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The bill — which includes financial help for affected workers and companies, as well as scholarships for the children of those who perished on the bridge — sailed through a series of votes, with the last vote on the final version coming in the Senate just before the clock struck midnight.

“This is going to make a difference for our workers. This is going to make a difference for the families that have lost lives,” said Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Baltimore County Republican and sponsor of the bill.

One bill that didn’t make it across the finish line was the NyKayla Strawder Memorial Act. The bill would have mandated services for children under 10 who commit an act of violence that results in the death of another.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr., chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the clock simply ran out on the bill. The Senate received the bill back from the House of Delegates just a few minutes until midnight.

”I really wanted to move it. We tried and just ran out of time ... When you get to the end of session, when you get to sine die, time is a commodity,” said Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat. He called the bill’s failure at the last minute “very disappointing.”

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The family of 15 year old NyKayla Strawder worked with Baltimore Sen. Jill Carter on the measure after they learned it was optional whether the 9-year-old boy who shot and killed their loved one in 2022 got help.

Sen. Ariana Kelly (center) smiles as she speaks with Sens. Ron Watson (left) and Michael Jackson in the Senate chamber on Monday. Kelly is leaving the legislature after the session to join Gov. Wes Moore’s administration. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The key issues that lawmakers identified heading into the session were resolved well before sine die, including changes to the state’s juvenile justice laws and resolving an impasse over whether to raise more money for the state budget. In the end, they agreed to targeted tax and fee increases, but no broad-based increases or expansions of the sales tax, income tax or corporate taxes.

Lawmakers also settled on how they’ll expand juvenile justice jurisdiction to include more charges for 10- to 12-year-olds and added broad oversight and tracking of children’s outcomes.

Senate President Bill Ferguson acknowledged that there’s disagreement over whether the juvenile reforms go too far, or not far enough. He described the legislation as a necessary adjustment in response to concerns, and acknowledged more adjustments may be necessary in the future.

“I’m certain this is not the last time we touch it,” the Baltimore Democrat said.

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Dealing with the budget and juvenile justice earlier in the session took some of the pressure off of the last day, said Del. Mark Chang.

“We’ve accomplished a lot to be able to help Marylanders out, with regard to our budget and also transportation, education,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.

Del. Mark Chang (left) shakes hands with Del. Ben Barnes in the House of Delegates chamber. Chang chairs a subcommittee on the state’s capital budget, which received final approvals on Monday. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Moore approval

Gov. Wes Moore declared the session a success, speaking to reporters mid-afternoon, as some of his bills still were crossing the finish line.

Moore said that he was pleased that the state budget met his “very high bar” for raising taxes and fees, saying those that were raised were appropriate.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks to reporters about the state budget and his proposed legislation on the final day of the Maryland General Assembly session, Monday, April 8, 2024.
Gov. Wes Moore speaks to reporters about the state budget and his proposed legislation on the final day of the Maryland General Assembly session. (Pamela Wood)

“We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to invest in, but I think the state also knows that we’re going to do it in a very fiscally responsible way,” said Moore, a Democrat.

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Moore said he was particularly proud of his “aggressive” housing bills, which would incentivize developers to build more units in certain locations, help finance projects and offer more protections for renters.

The governor had been largely absent from the State House in recent weeks, as he dealt with the aftermath of the Key Bridge collapse. He made the rounds in Annapolis on Monday, meeting with reporters, stopping by receptions around State Circle and giving pep talks in the legislative chambers.

In the House of Delegates, Moore told lawmakers he looked forward to signing many of their bills into law. “Partnership produces progress,” he said.

So much has changed over the course of the session, the governor noted when speaking in the Senate. “We are one Maryland at the end of the day,” Moore said.

‘Time is of the essence’

Entering Monday’s marathon day of lawmaking, legislators had approved nearly 800 of the 2,700 bills that were introduced. That number steadily crept up as the legislative machine kept rolling through the day.

The path from day one to day 90 was an eventful one, as lawmakers were unnerved by a threat of a mass shooting, felt the slight shudders of an earthquake, mourned the loss of life when the Key Bridge collapsed and, on the final afternoon, they marveled at a partial solar eclipse.

Protective glasses were passed around from lawmakers to staffers to journalists on Lawyers Mall mid-afternoon, as everyone gazed skyward for the celestial event.

Sen. Charles Sydnor, left, and Sen. Ron Watson check out the partial solar eclipse outside the Maryland State House in Annapolis on Monday, April 8, 2024 -- which is also the final day of the annual legislative session.
Sen. Charles Sydnor, left, and Sen. Ron Watson check out the partial solar eclipse outside the Maryland State House in Annapolis on Monday. (Pamela Wood)

Despite the busy work in committees and voting sessions in the House and Senate chambers, there was a festive mood around the State House complex.

During breaks from floor session, lawmakers, staff and lobbyists congregated in front of eateries and offices around State Circle. It’s common for lobbying firms to host sidewalk barbecues to celebrate the end of session.

”Whether you win or lose, we’re all just a big legislative family,” said Marty Lostrom of Capitol Strategies. The firm plans to serve oysters and drinks to a few hundred people into the evening, she said.

Exuberant lawmakers socialized about the House Judiciary Committee room, many in seersucker suits, a final day tradition. Others on the House floor wore tiaras and seersucker boutonnieres, marking the festivity of the last day.

In the Senate, Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Sen. Nancy King donned sequined jackets with a Maryland flag pattern.

Members of the bipartisan seersucker caucus don the traditional springtime attire for the last day of the legislative session, April 8, 2024. Pictured are Dels. Christopher Bouchat, Gary Simmons, N. Scott Phillips, Stuart Schmidt, Chris Tomlinson, Kym Taylor, Kent Roberson. (Brenda Wintrode)

Del. Aaron Kaufman said he’s proud of the four bills he passed and he hopes his work this session will help improve the lives of Marylanders. But the day for him is bittersweet.

“It’s like kind of a bit like going home for summer vacation in the middle of college because you won’t see people again for a long time,” the Montgomery County Democrat said. “I’m sad. The House of Delegates is a family, despite what you might witness in floor debates.”

“Time is of the essence,” said said Del. Ashanti Martinez, a Prince George’s County Democrat, who was anxiously waiting to see if one of his bills would cross the finish line. “And that’s the one thing that we don’t have a lot of here in Annapolis.”

A photo caption has been updated to correct the spellings of Christopher Bouchat and Kym Taylor’s first names.

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