By Heather Bagnall
Delegate, District 33
It has been three weeks since I was sworn into the 439th session of the General Assembly. There is an expression veteran legislators use frequently when describing the experience of a 90-day session in which approximately 3,000 pieces of legislation will be considered — “drinking from a fire hose.” However, despite the whirlwind feel of this time, we are not there yet, because this is our “slow period.”
I am one of the new members of the Health and Government Operations Committee, and our days are currently filled with briefings as we attempt to learn and process the ins and outs of the entire spectrum of health care in Maryland. This is when the process, the structure, becomes so important. I am, by nature, a process-oriented person. As an artist and educator, I’ve lived by the mantra “a strong process will result in a good product,” and in 30 years of teaching and performing, I’ve yet to see that fail.
The process — committees, subcommittees, briefings, hearings, legislative receptions, caucuses, work groups, meetings, even dinners where we get to know and form relationships with our colleagues — helps break down this mountain of information into somewhat digestible bites. There is also a humanity and humility that comes with this structure.
Of course, even as we begin to discuss and dissect the bills before us, the work for our constituents doesn’t stop. It was a strange juxtaposition even as we were sworn in at the state level, we were already in the third week of what would become the longest federal government shutdown in our history, and the suffering of so many Marylanders weighed heavily on us. It is why I was grateful for the process, grateful to have a schedule, which allowed me to keep working, even as we sought solutions and temporary relief measures until a more permanent solution would be found in Washington.
We remain steadfast in finding relief for Maryland as we wait in the shadow of another shutdown. We are just beginning our hearings on legislation, and every day, I have constituents who need help, whether it is with a water leak, an unsafe street crossing, or an overdue utility bill resulting from a furlough. Each time I am able to help, even if it is just helping someone navigate to the right person, feels like a big check in the win column. The schedule is as tempestuous and transient as the weather, but the process remains the same.
I am frequently asked about my legislative priorities. I am taking this time to be strategic, to learn everything I can, and to ensure whatever I do, I am creating a solid path for its success, researching what legislation has already been undertaken this session and where we might have gaps. This is my process. I know there will be missteps; there will be times when I am on the side of an issue that may not be universally popular, and now is the time when I establish how we navigate those issues. I’m also aware not everyone would be as excited to sit through a briefing on insurance or long-term care or the all payer system versus total cost of care as I, but I’m soaking it up like the research nerd I am and enjoying the process.
This session, we will tackle some weighty issues in our committee as well as in the legislative body as a whole. We are looking at strategies to combat the opioid epidemic, strategies to bring the cost of living down and the quality of life up for working families, strategies for closing the equity gap in our public education as well as combating our rising sea levels and rapid climate change. I cannot promise we will always be in agreement, but I can promise that I will never be arbitrary in my decision-making because arbitrary is not what I promised and definitely not part of the process.