Surviving ‘Sine Die’

This week, for the third or fourth time, I covered a wild political event known as Sine Die. And this was the wildest one yet.

Sine Die is a Latin term that’s used when the Maryland General Assembly adjourns the final day of its annual 90-day session. It means something weird like, “without a day” or something like that.

Laptop on State House filing cabinet. Photo by multimedia journalist Pamela Wood.
I don’t have a desk at the State House press room. So I made do on Sine Die by setting up my laptop on a filing cabinet and sitting on a random folding chair.

What really matters, though, is that Sine Die is a sprint for lawmakers to get a whole bunch of stuff done that they neglected to do in the first 89 days.

There are usually one or two hot-button issues and a whole host of lawmakers’ pet projects to shepherd through the House of Delegates and the state Senate before the stroke of midnight. It can be kind of exciting to see which issues live and which ones die and most lawmakers are in pretty good spirits.

But not this year.

I covered a few environmental bills over the course of the session and was called in to help our main State House reporter for Sine Die.

Unlike past years, there were big, big, big issues to resolve on Sine Die: whether to open the door to more slots and even table games and a little thing called the state budget.

News microphones. Photo by multimedia journalist Pamela Wood
Man, that is a lot of microphones. Waiting for the governor to speak on Sine Die.

To make a long, long story short, lawmakers couldn’t agree on anything.

The Senate president wanted to push through the gambling bill, but a House committee delayed a hearing on it for hours upon hours on the final day. Journalists, lobbyists and others sat for hours waiting for the hearing.

Meanwhile, the Senate didn’t send budget negotiators to a conference committee meeting for much of the afternoon. The House negotiators sat on one side of a table, staring at no one on the other side. And again, journalists sat for hours waiting until they finally got together to resolve some — but not all — of the budget issues.

And throughout the day, the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor all took turns in front of the cameras, urging the others to get their act together and strike a deal over all this stuff.

No deal was sealed by midnight.

Maryland General Assembly budget negotiations in "the mother of all back rooms." Photo by multimedia journalist Pamela Wood.
Here is a brief budget negotiation meeting after hours of delays on Sine Die. One of my colleagues last year called this “the mother of all back rooms,” as the room is difficult to find and there’s hardly any room for anyone to observe the proceedings.

Because lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to raise taxes as part of the budget, a sort of default budget with spending cuts goes into effect. There may or may not be a special session to work things out.

From a news perspective, the weirdest part of the whole thing happened the next morning. The three leaders in charge — governor, House speaker, Senate president — had to attend a bill signing ceremony.

Suffice it to say, things were tense.

Bill signing. Photo by multimedia journalist Pamela Wood.
The Senate president and the House speaker at a post-Sine Die bill signing ceremony.

The whole thing is probably not good in the eyes of most Marylanders. And it was pretty bizarre for us journalists. Who would have thought things would go down like this on Sine Die? Not me.

Photo from the Maryland Office of the Governor.
Can you see me at the post-Sine Die bill signing? Photo from the Maryland Office of the Governor.

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