January 22, 2021
This Wednesday marked a momentous occasion - the inauguration of our nation’s 46th President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. History has also been made and a glass ceiling shattered as Vice President Kamala Harris, our first Black American, South Asian, and female Vice President, was sworn in. I am extraordinarily hopeful for the justice and healing that this new Administration will bring for our country and our State.

Just hours after his inauguration, President Biden signed 17 executive orders, measures that include aggressively gearing up the country’s COVID-19 response, re-entering the U.S. in the Paris Agreement for climate change, and bolstering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for Dreamers. 

There is so much work left to be done, but I believe our call to action in this moment was best said by the impeccable Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, in her poem titled “The Hill We Climb.” 

“A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children's birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with.”
Senate President Emeritus Miller Lies in State
We mourn the passing of Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., on January 15th. Mike was a champion of the Senate of Maryland, a leader, a friend, a public servant, a hard worker, and someone who brought all voices to the table. He served the people of District 27 and of Maryland faithfully for over 50 years. Thousands of former Senators, Delegates, staffers, and constituents can speak to Mike’s unique and particular impact on them for the better. We are sending deepest condolences to his family: his wife Patti, his children Tommy, Amanda, Michelle, Melissa, and Melanie, his 15 grandchildren, and his large extended family.

Yesterday evening, Senate President Emeritus Miller lay in state in the rotunda of the State House for family and invited guests to pay their respects. Earlier today, the Senate honored him during our floor Session. As I said in my remarks, Mike was a dynamic leader who had a fierce commitment to both his family and the institution of the Senate of Maryland. Through his last days, Mike took every opportunity to remind me of the importance of balancing responsibility to the Senate with the paramount importance of family. I will miss his leadership and advice immeasurably.

A private Mass and service will be held Saturday at the Miller family’s church, St. John the Evangelist in Clinton, and will be live-streamed on the St. John the Evangelist Facebook page.
Senate Vaccination Oversight Workgroup
After over a month of vaccine distribution, Maryland’s rollout of our vaccination campaign has been set back with confusion about vaccine distribution, access, and administration. As of this morning, the State has administered less than half of our allocated vaccine doses, leaving over 350,000 vaccines still unused. With the world-class public health resources and assets unique to Maryland. We must do better. 

Marylanders deserve a bold, intentional, and comprehensive approach to vaccine administration. Our previous Secretary of Health, Secretary Neall, told the General Assembly in October that, “[the buck] stops with the Maryland Department of Health. It’s our plan, we’re responsible for carrying it out and I think we will be the major focal point.” We plan to hold acting Secretary Schrader to that same standard announced by his predecessor.

On Tuesday, I announced the formation of the Senate Vaccination Oversight Workgroup that will meet weekly to monitor data provided by the Maryland Department of Health and Acting Secretary Schrader to answer the four crucial questions: 
  1. Are Marylanders being vaccinated efficiently?
  2. Is the supply chain working?
  3. Does demand exceed supply?
  4. Will there be access and confidence in minority communities? 

Ultimately, the Vaccination Oversight Workgroup is about determining how to best improve Maryland’s vaccination system while getting Marylanders clear and predictable information to answer their rightful questions.

Currently, Maryland is in Phase 1B of vaccinations, which includes teachers and school staff, assisted living and other congregate settings, adults age 75 and older, and those involved in the continuity of government. Phase 1C will begin this Monday, January 25. Eligible Baltimore City residents can go online to coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov/covax to complete a vaccine interest form or call 410-396-2273.
Governor's Fiscal Year 2022 State Budget Released
Governor Hogan released his $49.35 billion budget for the fiscal year 2022 on Wednesday, as well as his RELIEF Act to provide Maryland stimulus to residents and businesses impacted by COVID-19. The Maryland Senate is committed to moving quickly on the Governor’s relief package while making necessary adjustments to ensure the most support gets to those Marylanders in the most need.

Some highlights of Governor Hogan’s proposed budget include:
  • $1 billion for COVID-19 relief, including stimulus checks to low-income Marylanders and sales tax credits for businesses; 
  • $7.5 billion for K-12 education;
  • $1 billion for road construction;
  • $1 billion for mass transit projects;
  • Full funding of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts;
  • $43 million for renewable-energy programs;
  • $74.6 million for police aid to local governments; and
  • $978 million for mental health and substance abuse programs.

Overall, the Governor’s high level overview of the budget looks promising, and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will be taking a more comprehensive review in the coming weeks.
Getting Students Back in the Classroom
There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on students’ educational attainment and socio-emotional health has been devastating, especially on students of color and those living in areas with concentrated poverty. As school reopening is again at the forefront of our statewide and national conversations, I want to reiterate what I have always said: We are framing the decision arounds school reopening as a false dichotomy between open and closed when the situation demands a complex solution. Threatening schools that do not reopen by March 1 is also unhelpful and creates a justifiably reflexive reaction in opposition instead of creating space for a thoughtful, solutions-oriented approach.

Meaningfully serving students and families requires decision makers to thoughtfully consider how and when to get different student populations back into the classroom as safely and quickly as possible. The phased approach that Baltimore City Schools is taking with the ongoing option for virtual instruction is the right one if we are truly to prioritize students’ educational and socio-emotional health.

With that said, every level of government has a role to play over the next month if we are to reopen schools safely. It is imperative that we scale up vaccination for educators and school staff in the City and across the State as rapidly as possible. At the same time, the State and Federal governments must provide immense financial support to ensure that PPE, safety, and cleaning protocols are implemented with fidelity. I was encouraged to see President Biden announce his commitment to that effort yesterday and we at the Maryland General Assembly will also do our part.
Remembering Dante "Tater" Barksdale
We grieve the loss of Dante “Tater” Barksdale, a champion of and leader in the Safe Streets Baltimore program, who was shot to death last Sunday. Mr. Barksdale committed his life to the work of violence prevention in Baltimore City and serving communities through building relationships. His death is heartbreaking and sobering, reminding us of the urgency and necessity of the work that Safe Streets does. 

Mr. Barksdale had a profound impact on Baltimore City. He will be remembered for his humor, warmth, commitment to the work of reducing gun violence, and his role as a local historian and storyteller. He spoke often about his frustration with the systemic inequities that continue to prevent young people from reaching their full potential. We will honor his life and his legacy by continuing to work for more equitable systems that will serve all young people in Baltimore City and allow them to maximize their potential.
More News
The Legislative Policy Committee approved two new subpoenas in the ongoing investigation into the six-figure severance payout of Roy McGrath, former CEO of the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) and Governor Hogan’s former chief of staff. The two subpoenas call former MES Managing Director of Finance Michael Harris and current MES Managing Director of Communications Dan Faoro for testimony before the committee, with hopes of getting more clarity into the circumstances of Mr. McGrath’s payout. 

Yesterday, Baltimore City House Delegation Chair Delegate Stephanie Smith presented House Bill 41, which would establish a task force to study creating a public State bank to address equity issues throughout Maryland. I support this policy innovation as a new tool in the State's intentional efforts to reverse the disparate economic impacts of COVID-19. I am hopeful the House will move Delegate Smith's bill forward this year for Senate consideration.

After a six-week ban, Mayor Brandon Scott announced that indoor and outdoor dining may resume in Baltimore City, effective as of this morning. Restaurants and bars will be limited to 50% capacity outside and 25% capacity indoors.

The Maryland General Assembly has set up a new Twitter account which will post updates about the committee hearings schedule for both the Senate and the House of Delegates. I encourage you to follow along for the latest updates and links to stream all meetings. 
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if there is anything we can do to help via email at bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us, or phone via 410-841-3600.