April 30, 2021
In the few weeks since the end of the 2021 Legislative Session, I’ve been reflecting on what a remarkable Session it was. Going into Session, the top priority was minimizing risk while maximizing productivity to meet the moment and confront the crises facing our State’s residents. There will always be more work to do and there is no doubt a robust agenda ahead of us in 2022, but I want to take a moment to celebrate a few of places we made immense progress this year: 

Maryland's HBCU Lawsuit Settled
A few short weeks after the end of the Legislative Session, Maryland has finalized the settlement of a 15-year lawsuit to provide the State’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with $577 million in funding. The settlement resulted from the General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill 1/House Bill 1 earlier this year to set aside this historic investment. The presidents and leaders of our HBCUs have called the funding a “game-changer” and are planning to use it to develop and expand academic programs, strengthen research, support financial aid, and recruit and retain faculty. 

Maryland’s HBCUs are a vital part of our State’s higher education landscape, and provide their students and alumni with rich communities, nurturing environments, and strong academic programs. This funding is a step ahead in pushing for equity in higher education, and I look forward to seeing the continued flourishing of our State’s HBCUs.
Capital Investments in District 46
Last week, I was thrilled to join Governor Hogan, Lt. Governor Rutherford, Secretary Churchill, and Shelonda Stokes, President of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, to announce a $50 million investment by the State to relocate Maryland employees at State Center to the Downtown Baltimore community. Baltimore’s Central Business District has experienced unacceptably high vacancy rates that were further exacerbated by the pandemic, reaching 24%. This investment will reinvigorate our urban core and the entire surrounding area. At the same time, we must do whatever is necessary and possible to find a long-term solution for the State Center complex in Midtown.

Additionally, Team 46 (Delegates Luke Clippinger, Robbyn Lewis, Brooke Lierman and I) were also able to secure nearly $39 million in capital funding in the 2021 Legislative Session. Last week, we celebrated the ribbon cutting on Phase 1 of the Friends of Patterson Park's capital campaign. With an additional $1 million that we secured this Session, Phase 2 will begin this fall, with the construction of a new outdoor community center for park visitors, community groups, and volunteer events. These long-term investments are a key part of investing in our local economy and getting Marylanders back to work.
Recovery Now Fund Paying Off
Since we passed the RELIEF Act with the Recovery Now package, State agencies have been hard at work getting the Recovery Now Fund off the ground so that financial relief gets to those who need it. The Department of Budget and Management is providing biweekly updates that can be found online and a synopsis is below: 

  • Of the 33 programs funded by the RELIEF Act, applications or grant agreements have been distributed for all but one program. These funds are providing critical support to restaurants, arts organizations, and entertainment venues; 
  • Maryland food banks received $10 million; 
  • 11,549 recipients of Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) received increased monthly benefits;
  • Six applications were received for mobile crisis and stand-alone crisis services and $2.9 million will be distributed to these organizations this week; and
  • $10 million will be distributed to local community colleges. 

The Department of Commerce has also reopened the Maryland Small Business COVID-19 RELIEF Grant Program for most jurisdictions, including Baltimore City. This will be the last chance for businesses to apply for this funding. If you think you may be eligible, or know of an eligible organization, you can go here to learn more and apply.
Vaccine and Mask Guidance Updates
In recent weeks, Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has heavily ramped up. 1.9 million Marylanders, nearly half of our State’s eligible population, have received at least their first dose of a vaccine and about a third of Marylanders are fully vaccinated. To continue reaching Marylanders where they are, the State is increasing efforts to vaccinate college students, senior citizens, and individuals experiencing homelessness

Marylanders can continue to pre-register online for vaccination appointments at State-run sites, or opt to visit one of the no-appointment, drive-through sites at Six Flags in Bowie, Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, and Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new mask guidelines earlier this week, advising that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks outdoors, except for in crowds or large gatherings. That guidance has been adopted in Maryland and Mayor Scott has announced that he will direct guidance for Baltimore’s local mask mandate to remain aligned with CDC guidance. As public health continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly critical that each of us do our part in getting vaccinated to return to normal life as quickly as possible.
Planning for the 2021-2022 School Year
On Tuesday, the Maryland State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution calling for all Maryland school districts to permit in-person learning for five days a week during the 2021-2022 school year. Currently across the State, 512,000 students (58%) continue to learn virtually, away from the school classroom. In the Baltimore City Public School system, less than 40% of students are learning in-person, mostly two days a week. 

As a former public school teacher, I am deeply cognizant of both the challenges that virtual learning brought over the past year, including drops in student grades and attendance, and the hesitation that school staff and families may have about in-person learning. I believe firmly that as we continue to get vaccines in arms as equitably, quickly, and safely as possible, we will be able to have our students back in the classroom full-time. Maryland’s young people deserve in-person instruction and interaction with friends to maximize their potential through education.
Chauvin Verdict a Reminder of Work Ahead
Last week, a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts for the murder of George Floyd. In a case that clearly demonstrated the officer’s reckless disregard for human life, this decision has brought accountability in this one, egregious instance. Yet, there is more work left to be done. True justice is a world in which Mr. Floyd’s life was never taken by an officer - a world in which he could come home to his daughter and family. Justice involves healing our country’s collective psyche, as a Baltimore Sun op-ed states so succinctly. And, justice necessarily involves changing a system of policing that disproportionately impacts and harms Black and Brown Americans. This verdict is a step forward, and reminds us of the work that still lies ahead to build a society where all people and communities can live and thrive.
More News
Yesterday, I had the chance to join Vice President Kamala Harris as she visited Baltimore City to mark the milestone of 100 days in office. Vice President Harris toured the COVID-19 vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, where she spoke about the “American aspiration” that has driven our nationwide vaccination effort. 

The Washington Post profiled Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and her cabinet, consisting mostly of Black women. Representation matters, especially at the top levels of government, and Prince George’s County is leading by example. 

Congressmen Brown and Mfume and Senators Van Hollen and Cardin have introduced legislation aimed at reconnecting communities through public infrastructure that brings residents together and expands economic opportunity. This investment would be particularly important for communities of color, who have been historically harmed by major roadways cutting across their neighborhoods and negatively impacting access to jobs, property values, and pollution. 

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau released data from the 2020 Census. You can read more details about the census data in a breakdown by The Baltimore Sun. The big takeaway for Maryland is that our State will hold onto its eight seats in the House of Representatives as Maryland’s population continues to grow, albeit slowly.
During the pandemic, the Baltimore City College High School students in the group Students Organizing A Multicultural and Open Society (SOMOS) have continued their advocacy for issues including equitable education and more consistent Internet access for all Baltimoreans - all while doing the hard work of keeping up with their studies and family responsibilities.

Archaeologists have uncovered the spot of Harriet Tubman’s childhood home on the Eastern Shore. This find provides insight into a formative space in Tubman’s early days with her family, before she became the fearless Underground Railroad conductor and abolitionist. 

This weekend, the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District is hosting its first annual Black Artist Fair. The free virtual event will feature 70 speakers who are holding workshops and talks to celebrate Baltimore’s poets, visual artists, singers, and dancers. You can find the weekend’s schedule of events at the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts District’s website.
If there is anything we can do to help, please do not hesitate to contact my office via email, bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us, or by phone, 410-841-3600.