It is just about that time in the statehouse, the time when the unexpected is expected to happen.
Usually, it all starts in late March, when the legislators' early-session procrastination begins catching up with them. Committee voting schedules get fat and unwieldy; legislators begin to fear that their own pet bills are threatened with death by neglect.
Usually, then, all the important questions are left to moulder until legislative leaders manage to clear the debris of limited-interest legislation out of the way. That makes for hectic, dramatic last-minute tussles over the big stuff.
They are wonderful theater, those last-minute brawls. The quorum call bells are constantly clanging as legislators rush around, scooping their colleagues up out of the lounges and getting them back on the floor for key votes. Politeness recedes and debate develops an acerbic edge.
And every so often legislators' voting buttons - the buttons that record their green "yes" and red "no" votes for posterity - get stuck at critical moments.
It is not usually a spectacle that gives one great faith in the Democratic process or the wisdom of the parliamentary system. Nontheless, the end-of-session days are the ones the statehouse press corps secretly looks forward to. For days on end we can write colorful stories about legislative drama and legislative scheming and the last legislative day, when they stop the clock at 11:59 p.m. and pretend that the day isn't over until they finish their business.
Right now, however, it looks as if the press corps may be disappointed this year. Quietly and efficiently, the legislative leaders appear to have put together a consensus on the year's biggest issue - property tax relief.
This is not to say, you understand, that there won't be any last-minute scheming or last-minute deals. There may even be some last-minute drama. But it now seems less and less likely that the main issue of the session will be jeopardized by the end-of-session shenanigans.
All of which has taken a little bit of the spark out of things here. You respect legislative leaders for their adroitness in practicing the art of consensus politics; you understand their efforts to anticipate every possible roadblock to key pieces of legislation, and you appreciate their skill at removing these roadblocks.
They are probably serving the people of Maryland in an exemplary fashion by working out all the sticky and important stuff ahead of time. But in a way, you have to react the same way you used to react to the kid in your high school class who got all his weekend homework done by Friday night. It's just a little bit irritating; it makes things just a little bit drab, predictable and monotonous.
There were some people in the press corps who were predicting right at the beginning that things might work out this way. Particularly after several pre-session stories had appeared predicting filibuster after filibuster and saying that election-year politicking would probably get in the way of most of the substantive questions before the lawmakers.
"You just watch," a Baltimore Sun reporter predicted in January. "They're going to spend the rest of the session proving us wrong." Thus far, there has been only one brief filibuster, and the politicking, while there, still hasn't seemed obtrusive.
The opportunities for screw-ups and tempestuous battles are still there, though. The controversial ethics legislation now before the General Assembly is a hybrid of Senate- and Administration-sponsored measures; the House of Delegates may not react warmly to it. A measure designed to restructive the pension system that covers 150,000 state employes and teachers has already generated some energetic maneuvering, with union lobbyists and administration lobbists vying for lawmakers' votes.
And there is always the budget, the $4.4 billion in expenditures, which the lawmakers are supposed to sign off on and which generally contains enough obscure provisions to generate a week or so of debate. Also, the budget has been the anti-obortionists' vehicle for pressing their quest to keep state tax dollars from going to pay for abortions for poor women. A fight can be expected on that issue in the Senate before long.
All of which is to say that it's not over yet. The remarkable, almost ruthless efficiency that legislative leaders have produced so far may yet break down, and spontaniety may then be the order of the day.
It just doesn't seem very likely that that's going to happen.
But I can't help remembering the famous quote out of some old western or other. It's the one where the Good Guy turns to his Sidekick and remarks, "It's quiet here." And the Sidekick answers, "Yeah. Too quiet."