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The lawmaking powers of the State are vested in the General Assembly, which consists of two separate branches - the Senate and the House of Delegates (Const., Art. III, sec. 1). The General Assembly has 188 members, with 47 senators and 141 delegates. One senator and three delegates are elected from each of the 47 legislative election districts. After every decennial census, legislative district boundaries are redrawn to conform to the principle of one person/one vote.

Sparrow Seal

Each senator or delegate must be a citizen of Maryland and a resident for at least one year preceding the date of election. A prospective legislator must have resided for the six months prior to election in the legislative district the candidate seeks to represent. A senator must be at least twenty-five years of age at the time of election and a delegate at least twenty-one. Persons elected to or holding a civil or military office other than as a member of a reserve component under the federal or State government are not eligible for election to the General Assembly (Const., Art. III, secs. 9, 10, 11). All seats in the General Assembly are up for election every four years. (The next general election will be held November 5, 2002.)

The term of each senator and delegate is four years from the second Wednesday of January following the date of election (Const., Art. III, sec. 6). No limit is placed on the number of terms a legislator may serve. If a vacancy occurs in either house through death, resignation, or disqualification, the Governor appoints a replacement whose name is submitted by the State Central Committee of the same political party as the legislator whose seat is to be filled. All persons so appointed serve for the unexpired portion of the term (Const., Art. III, sec. 13).

The purpose of the General Assembly is to pass laws necessary for the welfare of the State. The legislature may establish executive departments as needed for the efficient operation of State government and may create special taxing districts or areas within the State to administer a special function or functions. In accordance with the Constitutions of Maryland and of the United States, the General Assembly may levy taxes. It may propose State Constitutional amendments, which must be passed by three-fifths of the total membership of each house and submitted to the voters for ratification at the next general election after passage. Legislative authority is limited only by the State Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and judicial decisions.

Each house elects its own officers, judges the qualifications and election of its own members, establishes rules for the conduct of its business, and may punish or expel its own members. Legislators, however, are not liable in civil or criminal actions for words spoken in debate (Const., Art. III, secs. 18, 19). The Senate and the House of Delegates each appoint staff such as desk officers. The Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House are the highest ranking staff members in their respective chambers.

On the first day of a regular legislative session, the Secretary of the Senate calls the roll and conducts the election of a President Pro Tem, who in turn presides over the election of the President of the Senate. The President Pro Tem administers the oath of office to the President and thereafter carries out any duties assigned by the President. In the House of Delegates, the Chief Clerk calls the roll and proceeds with the organization of the House. A Speaker Pro Tem is elected first, who presides over the election of the Speaker of the House and administers the Speaker's oath of office.

The Senate President and House Speaker each appoint a Majority Leader with whom they consult on the selection of a Majority Whip and Deputy Majority Leader. In both House and Senate, the political party having fewer seats chooses a Minority Leader and a Minority Whip.

Duties and prerogatives of the President and Speaker enable them to influence the legislative process significantly. The President and the Speaker appoint the members of standing committees, joint committees, conference committees, and select committees. They name the chair and vice-chair of each committee, except for the Joint Committee on Investigation whose members elect their own officers. The President and Speaker preside over the daily sessions of their respective chambers, maintaining decorum and deciding points of order. As legislation is introduced, they assign it to a standing committee for consideration and a public hearing.

Since 1971, the General Assembly has convened annually on the second Wednesday in January. Sessions are held in the Senate and House chambers of the State House in Annapolis. Normally, sessions do not exceed ninety consecutive days. The General Assembly may extend its sessions an additional thirty days by resolution passed by three-fifths vote of the membership in each house. The Governor is the only person with the power to call the legislature into special session and in fact must do so on petition of a majority of the elected membership of each house (Const., Art. II, sec. 16; Art. III, sec. 14). No single special session, however, may last longer than thirty days. Special sessions were constitutionally provided for at a time when the General Assembly convened every two years instead of annually, but as recently as 1992, the Governor called the General Assembly into special session twice. The Governor cannot adjourn the General Assembly, but before any proposed adjournment sine die, the General Assembly must ask if the Governor wishes to make any further communications to either house (Senate Rule 111; House Rule 111). Both houses must agree to adjourn.

The General Assembly spends considerable time dealing with local issues, ordinances, and expenditures. The Constitution adopted in 1867 kept the power to pass public local laws vested in the General Assembly. In essence, this gave control of county government to county delegations in the General Assembly. Since 1948, however, thirteen counties and Baltimore City have opted for some form of home rule, allowing the General Assembly a more statewide focus. The Municipal Home Rule Amendment of 1954 virtually prohibits the General Assembly from passing local legislation for incorporated cities and towns, although the Assembly retains its power to pass a general statewide law that affects them (Const., Art. XI-E). Power to regulate elections and to license and regulate the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, however, is reserved to the General Assembly, and home rule counties are limited to exercising the powers enumerated in the Express Powers Act (Code 1957, Art. 25A, sec. 5).

Local bills passed by the General Assembly may include a referendum provision that requires submission of the bill to voter approval. With the exception of a proposed amendment to the Constitution, a statewide bill may not be submitted by the General Assembly to referendum, because such an action has been construed by the courts to constitute a delegation of the legislature's lawmaking powers. Most statewide bills (except appropriations) and any local bill that concerns a county or Baltimore City, however, may be petitioned to a referendum by the voters. No bill subject to referendum, except an emergency bill, is enforceable until approved by a majority of the voters at the next election. An emergency bill subject to referendum goes into effect upon passage and remains effective for thirty days following its rejection by the voters (Const., Art. XVI).

The House of Delegates has sole power to impeach officers and judges of the State. A majority of all members of the House must approve any bill of impeachment. The Senate tries all impeachment cases, and two-thirds of the total number of senators must concur in reaching a verdict of guilty (Const., Art. III, sec. 26).

Both houses elect the State Treasurer by joint ballot. The General Assembly also elects the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor if the popular election results in a tie or the winning candidate or candidates are ineligible. If a vacancy occurs in the office of Lieutenant Governor, the Governor nominates a person to succeed to that office upon confirmation by a majority vote of all members of the General Assembly in joint session. If vacancies occur in both the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor at the same time, the General Assembly must convene and elect a Governor by a majority vote of all members in joint session. The chosen Governor then nominates a Lieutenant Governor requiring the same confirmation.

The President of the Senate serves as acting Governor if the Lieutenant Governor is unable to do so. Should a vacancy occur in the office of President of the Senate while the President is authorized to serve as acting Governor, the Senate must convene and fill the vacancy (Const., Art. II, secs. 1A, 1B, 6, 7A).


Legislators. A constituent's State Senator or Delegate, or the bill's sponsor often are the most effective source of information on proposed laws.

Department of Legislative Services. The Library and Information Services Division of the Department of Legislative Services provides information about the status of bills, the legislative process, and the General Assembly.

During the legislative session, the Department issues daily synopses of bills introduced. Synopses note primary sponsors, committee assignment, and section of the Annotated Code of Maryland affected by the proposed law. As with printed bills, Senate synopses are on white paper, House synopses on blue. Issued weekly all year, the Department's Committee Meetings and Hearing Schedule shows times and places for legislative committee meetings. It is useful especially during the legislative session, listing what bills will be heard each day.

Synopses and hearing schedules are available at information desks in the State House (ground floor) and Legislative Services Building (basement). Copies of bills and joint resolutions are found at the Bill Room in the Legislative Services Building. A subscription service for bills, synopses, proceedings, and hearing schedules is available from

Each April, immediately after adjournment of the General Assembly, the Department of Legislative Services prepares The 90 Day Report. This volume gives an overview of issues considered, legislation passed, and significant bills that failed. Copies may be purchased. The Department also publishes legislative committee reports, various indexes to bills, Final Status Report of Proposed Legislation, Synopsis of Laws Enacted, journals of both Senate and House, and Laws of Maryland.

Office of Legislative Information Systems. Through the World Wide Web, the Office of Legislative Information Systems offers an on-line bill status system, called the Maryland Legislative Information System (MLIS). The Office of Legislative Information Systems is part of the Department of Legislative Services.

The Office's Legislative Subscription Service provides access, for a fee, to continuously updated information. For subscription information, call (410) 946-5300, or (301) 970-5300.

Legislative Caucuses. Legislative caucuses track bills of interest to their members and may issue newsletters. The General Assembly has two formally organized caucuses. The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus was created in 1970. The Women Legislators of Maryland began as the Maryland Chapter of the Order of Women Legislators in 1972.

Newspapers. During a legislative session, newspapers often publish articles about bills introduced and public hearing schedules of General Assembly committees.

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November 5, 2002   
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