Maryland lawmakers showed up to their final official day of work on Monday, a marathon of last-minute lawmaking as a midnight deadline to adjourn approached.

The last day of the 90-day Maryland General Assembly session is generally a chaotic affair, as lawmakers go in and out of sessions in their chambers, punctuated by quick and impromptu committee voting sessions. Lobbyists and advocates make last-minute pushes for bills that still hang in the balance.

Here’s a look at the scene in and around State Circle on the last day of the session, known as sine die.

What’s sine die all about anyway?

The last day of the annual legislative session of the General Assembly is known as sine die, named for the final motion to adjourn that’s made at midnight.

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Sine die is a Latin term that roughly means “without a day.” The way it’s pronounced in Annapolis is “sign-knee dye,” which is how lawmakers around the country pronounce it but is disputed by some sources.

House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones starts the first House session on sine die on April 10, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

As the clock ticks toward midnight, the majority leaders in the House of Delegates and state Senate each will rise and make a motion to adjourn sine die, meaning they’re adjourning without a fixed time to return.

Even though the term is related to the final action of the session, the whole day is known as sine die, with lawmakers, staff and lobbyists all wishing each other a “Happy sine die.”

There also is a lot of celebration, as lawmakers, staff and lobbyists blow off steam at the end of three months’ of long hours. Lawmakers were invited to 10 different gatherings on sine die, some of them spilling out onto the sidewalk and street on State Circle.

No tunnels aided lobbyists, activists

As lobbyist Len Lucchi reflected on his 40-year career in Annapolis, he noted some of the elements that made this session a little different — the governor testifying on his bills and agency heads taking positions on legislation.

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“And not just testifying, but being engaged with the legislature, legislators,” said Lucchi, who recalled seeing Cabinet secretaries outside hearing rooms. He said, “It was a good thing.”

The jobs of lobbyists and advocates got a little easier this year because of a massive construction project which shut down the underground tunnels used by legislators to walk between their offices and the State House. Lucchi works on behalf of unions, nonprofits and local government.

Ana Rodriguez, organizer with CASA, protests outside of the Maryland State House for free health care on the last day of the legislative session on April 10, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Without the tunnels, lawmakers had one route and “everybody has equal access as they [legislators] take the walk from the office buildings to the State House to try and buttonhole somebody,” he said.

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The clock is always ticking

Every minute before midnight on sine die is precious; if a bill doesn’t pass by 11:59 p.m., its chances of passage are over.

So, every now and then when debate carries on for an extended stretch of time, a lawmaker will chime in with a reminder that the clock is ticking.

Senate President Bill Ferguson starts the first Senate session of the day on sine die on April 10, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

After nearly an hour of debate on how the Maryland Sustainable Buildings Act of 2023 would benefit birds in the state, Senate President Bill Ferguson told the body to keep in mind that “for every minute that passes, a bill doesn’t get its wings.”

And while midnight is a hard-and-fast deadline, time otherwise is a rather flexible concept inside the State House on the last day of the session.

The session lasts for 90 days, but lawmakers don’t hold sessions every single day, taking most weekends off. So as the calendar days tick by in normal fashion, the progress of legislative days is much slower.

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That means that when work started on Monday, which for the record was April 10, the Senate was on legislative day March 27 and the House was on legislative day April 1. Both chambers held multiple sessions over the course of the day on Monday, each time progressing to a new legislative day. That allowed lawmakers to advance bills through the legislative process, because certain steps are required to take place one legislative day at a time.

When lawmakers adjourned at midnight, the Senate was on legislative day March 30 and the House was on legislative day April 4.

Sine die fashion statements

Wearing dark suits or dresses every day gets a little boring, and some lawmakers opt to be more creative with their fashion on the final day.

That’s where the Seersucker Caucus comes in. No, it’s not an official caucus, just a bipartisan group of lawmakers agreeing to wear their pastel striped summer suits.

Del. N. Scott Phillips, Baltimore County Democrat, is among lawmakers wearing seersucker on sine die, the final day of the Maryland General Assembly session. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Del. Marvin Holmes said the Seersucker Caucus has been in effect at least as long as he’s been in the House of Delegates, 20 years. But sometimes participation has waned, particularly during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“The Seersucker Caucus seemed to be disappearing,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said. “I therefore took it upon myself as the powerful chair of the Seersucker Caucus to lead us back into a tradition I think is fun.”

Holmes gathered more than a dozen seersucker-clad delegates for a photo during a break in the action. He declared the turnout to be “good,” but vowed: “Next year is going to be larger and the following year after that it will be larger again.”

This year also saw the introduction of “sine tie,” with male and female lawmakers alike sporting ties.

Over the weekend, Baltimore County Democratic Del. Eric Ebersole suggested lawmakers should bring multiple ties to wear as the House adjourned and reconvened into different “legislative days” throughout Monday, with a different tie for each legislative day.

Male and female lawmakers alike wore different ties for the different “legislative” days on the last day of the General Assembly session, known as sine die — or maybe it’s "sine tie." (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

A group of women delegates from a variety of districts sported sparkly crystal headpieces on the House floor. The group, all of whom were elected in 2018, have kept the symbolic tradition going since their first sine die together. Though their name is top secret, their intentions are clear: supporting one another during the session. It began as a text message chain and evolved into tiaras.

“Whenever one of us passed a bill or said something wonderful on the floor or said something that wasn’t wonderful, but we wanted to support it anyway and make her feel better ... we started this chain and at some point during that first year we ended up with tiaras right before the end of session,” said Del. Michele Guyton, a Baltimore County Democrat.

House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, meanwhile, made a subtle statement with her footwear on sine die.

The presiding officers of the House and Senate must stand for long periods of time, refereeing debates and calling for votes. Her predecessor, the late Speaker Michael E. Busch, famously wore sneakers on sine die.

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Jones posted on Twitter a photo of her presiding over the chamber in pale pink heels that matched her suit.

“I learned a lot from Speaker Busch, but this is one area where we’ve done things differently,” Jones wrote.

The Gov. in the House (and Senate)

Aside from the gubernatorial inauguration and State of the State speech, it’s lawmakers who get most of the spotlight in Annapolis for these 90 days, not the governor.

Even so, Gov. Wes Moore has something like rockstar status among lawmakers, at least among the Democrats. Moore and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller made a quick trip down from the second floor to the first floor to visit both chambers on Monday evening and praise lawmakers for their hard work.

In the House, Jones introduced the duo as “one who is very, very, very familiar with this chamber” (that’s Miller, a former delegate) “and one is the governor of the state of Maryland.”

Moore kept his remarks brief, barely a minute long.

“Madam Speaker, thank you for a remarkable, remarkable session,” Moore said. “And we are so grateful for each and every one of you. You all worked incredibly hard. You all did not sleep for the last 90 days.”

No rest for the weary

After working in session until midnight on Monday, the presiding officers need to turn around to be present at a bill signing ceremony at noon on Tuesday.

Moore plans to sign dozens of bills into law alongside Jones and Ferguson during a State House ceremony.

Among the bills on the signing agenda: The Fair Wage Act that raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour on Jan. 1; the Family Prosperity Act that expands tax credits that help low-income workers; and the Child Victims Act, which removes barriers that prevented some survivors of child sexual abuse from suing institutions that employed or supervised abusers.

The bill signing list also includes many routine technical bills and bills adjusting local liquor laws. But no matter how major or minor a bill may seem, lawmakers and advocates usually relish the opportunity to have their picture snapped with the governor, speaker and president, and maybe snag a ceremonial pen to display in their office.

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