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Volume xviii, Issue 2 ~ January 14 - January 20, 2010

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Back to Work at the Maryland State House

It’s time to make history again in our historic capitol

by Katie Dodd

Growing up in downtown Annapolis, I picnicked at the State House on benches overlooking the city, and I learned to avoid disapproving guards as my dog, Skipper, raced around its grounds chasing squirrels.

More important events have marked the history of the edifice where the Maryland General Assembly convened on January 13 to begin its 427th session.

On December 23, 1783, George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, stood in the Old Senate Chamber as a pleading assembly begged him to become king of the newly independent 13 colonies. But Washington wanted to go home to Mount Vernon to farm — and he’d promised his wife Martha he would be there for Christmas Eve dinner. Washington made his resignation speech, mounted his horse and arrived home the next day — 10 minutes late for the meal. It was Washington’s second time home in eight years.

Three weeks after Washington resigned, the Treaty of Paris was signed in the same room, officially ending the Revolutionary War.

The Maryland State House — the third to stand on this spot — is our nation’s oldest in continual use and the only one to have been the national capital. With its peak rising to just under 200 feet, it was once the tallest building in the United States.

The Capitol Workforce

The governor and lieutenant governor work at the State House all year long in offices on the second floor.

Each January, the State House workforce increases as Maryland’s 47 legislative districts send 141 delegates and 47 senators to Annapolis to introduce and consider bills to change, add and repeal laws. This year 2,300 bills are already on the agenda. Resolving the state’s $2 billion budget deficit will be their biggest job, with other hot topics including creating jobs, shoring up small business with tax credits for hiring unemployed workers, responding to the state effects of federal health care reform and restoring Chesapeake Bay.

Lawmakers work for 90 days straight, often through weekends and holidays. In January, they may meet in the State House’s new Senate and House chambers — in the annex built between 1902 and 1906 — for only 15 or 20 minutes a day before going to committee meetings and their offices across Lawyers’ Mall in the James and Miller Senate Office Buildings and the Lowes House Office Building. In March and April, when bills come to a vote, the State House can see 15 hour days.

Despite long hours, not all of the legislators’ time is spent between the State House and legislative office buildings. Many local businesses feel a post-holiday boost that can last until spring.

Swelling the Neighborhood

“They’re like family to us because we see them every year,” says Harry Browne’s owner Rusty Romo of the senators and delegates who frequent his restaurant for lunch and dinner during session. “We look forward to it. They come in for 90 days and add a lot in the winter doldrums.”

Some businesses cater specifically to the influx, which includes not only the legislators but also their staffs and research teams and the lobbyists and citizens working to influence the vote.

“We’re having an open house for the delegates and their staffs to acquaint them with the variety of books we have and the services we offer,” says Annapolis Bookstore owner Mary Adams.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly on Main Street promotes over 100 sandwiches and salads named after men and women who’ve been elected to office, mostly in Maryland, and who are customers of the delicatessen. Officials can choose an existing sandwich or make up a new one to receive their name. Governor O’Malley’s sandwich is roast beef with lettuce and horseradish on rye bread.

Whether or not the delegates’ and senators’ physical presence in town for the next three months directly affects its citizens, the decisions they make certainly will. You’re welcome to sit in on all sessions, including an 8pm session on Monday evenings, in the visitors gallery above each chamber. Each night during session, find a legislative update at

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