October 2, 2021
One of the proudest moments of my legislative career was shepherding the landmark Blueprint For Maryland’s Future into law this past February following its veto override. The Blueprint’s passage marks the beginning of a 10-year journey to ensure that every child, regardless of their circumstance, can maximize their potential. 

Last month, the Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) Nominating Committee presented the Governor with a slate of candidates who will be charged with ensuring the transformational program is implemented with fidelity. I was glad to see Governor Hogan appoint seven of those candidates to the AIB and am confident it will ensure that school districts in every corner of the State are supported in their implementation of the Blueprint, taking individualized community needs into account. 

Although it is impossible for a 7 member board to be fully representative of 24 jurisdictions and the diversity of all Maryland residents, the confusion sowed by the letters the Nominating Committee received around representation created unnecessary doubt in the process. To help alleviate any uncertainty around representation, I am advocating to the newly formed AIB that it create an advisory panel of sufficient size to incorporate all voices. I sincerely hope that all those who wrote letters will join me in an effort to build a robust slate of individuals for that panel, should the AIB choose to create it.
Historic State Surplus
In a bit of good news, Maryland ended its fiscal year with a $2.5 billion surplus thanks to federal pandemic aid that supported workers and helped keep businesses afloat. The State’s personal income tax collections grew by 7.3% during the 2020 tax year and wage growth led to more sales tax revenues than expected during the last six months of the 2021 fiscal year. At the same time, we must be mindful of possible unforeseen circumstances that could limit the availability of that surplus in the event of a new wave of COVID-19, inflation, or economic downturn.
It is critical that these funds go toward helping those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As extended unemployment benefits have expired, SNAP benefits are cut, and eviction protections end, we must find new and creative ways to protect the State’s low and middle-income residents.
New Maryland Laws
Yesterday, hundreds of transformational new laws take effect in Maryland, including sweeping police reforms passed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year. The new legislation covers a breadth of issues important to Marylanders including:    

  • Anton’s Law, making police misconduct information available through Public Information Act requests and restricting the use of no-knock warrants;
  • Establishing a program through Maryland 211 allowing people to sign up for a periodic call to check on their well-being and refer callers to mental health services;
  • Enhancing cybersecurity protections for local governments and small organizations; 
  • Automatically expunging any three-year-old civil or criminal charge that was acquitted, dismissed, or resulted in a not-guilty verdict;
  • Increasing mental health services for police officers; and
  • Ensuring greater reporting by local law enforcement agencies regarding use-of-force incidents.

I am deeply proud of the work the General Assembly conducted last year to pass these critical and much-needed bills to improve the lives of Marylanders.
Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup
On Monday, the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup met to monitor the State’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maryland has the lowest new COVID-19 case rate in the country. This progress is worth celebrating, but we must remain vigilant. Mitigation efforts like masking remain critical. Further, we have to do everything possible to encourage all Marylanders to get the life-saving vaccine.  
I was glad to see the State authorize the immediate use of COVID-19 booster shots. You are now eligible for a booster shot if you received the Pfizer vaccine and are:
  • 65-years-old and older;
  • Live in a congregant setting, like a nursing home;
  • Age 50 to 64 with underlying health conditions; or
  • A front-line health care provider, teacher, or work in other high-risk job.

As the initial vaccination protections wane, it is critical that we respond to protect our front-line workers and the most vulnerable among us.
COVID-19 and Maryland Schools
In the first several weeks of the school year, more than 4,000 public school students have tested positive for COVID-19 and almost 17,000 have been quarantined. Not surprisingly, the sharpest increase in COVID positivity rates in Maryland has been among children. These alarming numbers jeopardize in-school instruction and exacerbate the learning loss that has deeply affected students across the State. 

That includes the temporary and unfortunate closure of The Historic Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School in the 46th District for in-person instruction this week. I’m grateful to Principal Guzman and his staff’s quick reaction as it moved to asynchronous instruction. Principal Guzman worked with Councilwoman Porter and my office to organize a mobile vaccine clinic with the help of Medstar Harbor Hospital on Thursday to increase vaccine access in the Cherry Hill community.

Currently, about 72% of children between 12 and 17 years old have received at least one shot of the vaccine. Until case rates decrease throughout the State and vaccines are available to children younger than 12, we must continue enacting proven mitigation strategies to keep kids safely in the classroom for in-person instruction.
LRAC Holding Public Hearings on Redistricting
The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission has already held three productive public hearings in September to seek input and comment from residents in Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, and Western Maryland. A statewide virtual hearing will take place from 3-5pm on Tuesday of next week (October 5) and an in-person hearing in Baltimore City will be held on October 12 from 6-8pm.
It is critical that Marylanders lend their voice to the Commission’s work as the legislature fulfills its constitutional responsibility to redraw the State’s congressional and legislative maps based on data from the 2020 Census. Speaker Jones and I are committed to a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative process.
Transit Equity
One in three Baltimoreans lack access to a car, making them dependent on public transportation for work, health care, education, groceries, and more. A new report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition says the City’s public transit system is unreliable, failing to get people to their destination in a reasonable amount of time. 

Baltimore has a high concentration of low-income, minority riders, many of whom were considered essential workers during the pandemic. We must look at public transit as an equity issue and focus incoming federal dollars on neighborhoods who need access to reliable and efficient transportation.
More News
Reminder: Plastic bags are banned in Baltimore City as of yesterday. The ban prohibits single-use plastic checkout bags at the point of sale, pick up, or delivery. Any other bags distributed will cost at least five cents.  

The General Assembly passed a bill earlier this year requiring federal pandemic relief funding to pay electronic monitoring and home detention fees for some defendants. The Program is set to begin this month and retroactive payments should be considered to alleviate the financial strain of those forced to pay for these devices due to COVID-19 accommodations.
I was alarmed by the recent Texas law that prohibits abortions as early as six weeks, often well before a woman knows she’s pregnant. We are weighing legal and legislative action to protect the right to choose in Maryland, a right supported by decades of judicial precedent.

The Baltimore City Council approved a bill Monday to create a security deposit grant program for low-income city residents to provide up to $2,000 toward a renter’s security deposit based on their income.
More people in Maryland died of opioid overdoses in 2020 than any year on record, confirming health experts’ fears that the coronavirus pandemic would lead to a sharp uptick in drug use and deaths. 

Volunteers with the Greater Baltimore Oyster Partnership on Sunday assembled cages to grow about 25,000 baby oysters in the Baltimore Harbor, thanks to the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Justice was served when the gunman responsible for the murder of five Capital Gazette employees was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole on Tuesday — three years and three months after the deadly attack.
The Hippodrome Foundation plans to renovate and revitalize the former Eutaw Savings Bank into Baltimore’s newest performance and events space thanks in part to a capital investment by the Maryland General Assembly last Session. When completed in early 2023, the M&T Bank Pavilion will be able to accommodate a wide range of community events and performances.
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.