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General Assembly Adjourns Without Its Speaker

Rachel Baye

The General Assembly wrapped up its 439th session Monday night in Annapolis, and for the first time since 2003, Michael Busch wasn’t overseeing the House of Delegates as speaker. Busch died Sunday at the age of 72 after he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

The frenzied, celebratory atmosphere that’s typical on the last day of the General Assembly’s 90-day session was marred by Busch’s absence.

In a highly unusual move, the legislature ended its official business 30 minutes early. The House and Senate then had a joint session to honor Busch.

“Speaker Busch was my friend, leader, mentor and certainly a coach to all of us that serve in the House of Delegates,” Baltimore Del. Talmadge Branch, the House majority whip, recalled during the tribute.

House Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar Barve, from Montgomery County, said Busch “was a man who saw the good in every individual no matter how flawed they were, and he based his viewpoint of life and policy on the fact that there was this good thing in everybody that could be brought out.”

“He was a great man, a good friend,” said Howard County Sen. Guy Guzzone, the Senate majority leader. “And I really loved him.”

The last day of the session — known by the Latin Sine Die — is usually a flurry of activity, as legislators hold impromptu committee votes and negotiate compromises on contentious bills.

But this year, most of the major legislative battles were settled before Monday. The small number of high-profile bills left unfinished coupled with Busch’s absence created a more subdued tone than normal.

“It’s hard to imagine that we’re going to close out this 439th legislative session without a guy who’s been a leader of the House for the past 16 years and who’s been really an institution in the institution of state government for 32 years,” Gov. Larry Hogan said to reporters Monday afternoon.

Senate President Mike Miller acknowledged at the start of the day that closing out the session without Busch would be tough for everyone.

“I was on Facebook last night just reading all the tributes, and I couldn’t sleep,” he said, choking up. “I can’t even talk about it. It’s going to be a difficult day. So we need to proceed as best we can, in his honor.”

In the House, Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones presided for the last couple weeks while Busch was out with pneumonia, and she continued to lead the chamber on Monday.

“It was very emotional,” she told reporters after the first floor session of the day. “As you noticed, the chief of staff and myself were in tears, holding each other.”

With her dress, Jones wore New Balance sneakers, just as Busch wore when he knew the floor sessions would run long. She said the choice was part remembrance and part practical.

One of the few big fights of the night was over the “Clean Energy Jobs Act,” which requires the state to get half of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030.

The House and Senate also reached a compromise on a bill creating a “Prescription Drug Affordability Board,” with the power to cap the amount Maryland residents pay for certain drugs.

And the legislature wrapped up one of Busch’s priority bills. It prohibits oyster harvesting in five waterways. Hogan vetoed it, but the House voted to override the veto on Friday, and the Senate followed suit Monday morning.

But at 11:30, everything stopped.

Branch, in his tribute, said that at the end of the last night of every session, he would touch Busch and say, “Sine Die, my friend.”

“I can’t touch him now,” he said. “But I can say for the last time, ‘Sine Die, my friend.’”

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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