A soft shell crab sandwich featured at Catfish Lewie's restaurant in Haymarket. (Richard A. Lipski/TWP)

When Maryland lawmakers reconvene next month, they’ll debate some weighty issues, including gun control, alternative energy and transportation funding.

They’ll also tackle this: whether the Free State needs a state sandwich.

We’re not talking turkey. Or ham, for that matter.

Legislation introduced in advance of the session that starts Jan. 9 would designate the soft-shell crab sandwich as Maryland’s official “state sandwich.”

The crab is usually pan-fried, placed between two pieces of bread (toasted if preferred) and accompanied by the likes of mustard, lettuce and tomato. When served, the legs are sticking out.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn (R-Dorchester), the bill sponsor in the Senate, argued that the promotion of “a Maryland delicacy” would help the restaurant business as well as struggling watermen who harvest crabs in the Eastern Shore counties he represents.

And why not? “We’ve got a Maryland everything,” Colburn said.

He’s not exaggerating by much.

Like many of its counterparts, Maryland has designated a state tree (the white oak), a state bird (the Baltimore Oriole), a state fish (the striped bass) and a state flower (the black-eyed Susan).

And there’s more. Much more. By force of law, Maryland has a state sport (jousting), which one should not confuse with the state team sport (lacrosse).

There’s a state dog (the Chesapeake Bay retriever) and a state cat (the calico cat). There’s a state gem (the Patuxent River stone), a state reptile (the diamondback terrapin, of course) and even a state dinosaur (the astrodon johnstoni).

It’s been a few years since the ranks of Maryland’s emblems and icons expanded. The last effort, in 2008, drew national attention.

That was the year lawmakers agreed to make walking the state exercise. National Public Radio was among those that heralded the legislature for putting “one foot in front of the other.”

A successful effort the same year to designate a state dessert (the Smith Island cake) drew less controversy.

“The Smith Island cake thing kind of made some sense,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), noting the identification of the dessert with Maryland. “I guess you could say the same thing about the soft-shelled crab sandwich.”

Barve said he sees no reason at this point to oppose the legislation, though he noted he can’t imagine enjoying the state sandwich at the same time as the state drink (milk).

“I know there are a lot of people who think this is kind of silly, but we won’t spend a lot of time on it,” Barve said. “These things are brief diversions.”

A bill identical to Colburn’s has been filed in the House of Delegates by Del. Rudolph C. Cane (D-Wicomico).

Colburn acknowledged that he hasn’t always supported other legislation expanding state designations. A decade ago, he said he opposed the bill enshrining the calico cat.

“I never thought we needed a state cat,” Colburn said. “I voted against it, and my wife didn’t talk to me for a week. She loves cats.”