September 4, 2020
Students across Maryland went back to school this week, albeit virtually, with many more set to start next week including Baltimore City Public Schools. The word unprecedented has been used frequently over the last few months, but it bears repeating. Local school district leaders, administrators, and teachers have put in an unbelievable amount of work to ensure the best possible outcome for students under the most challenging of circumstances and deserve our immense gratitude.

I remain concerned about the need to bridge the digital divide and support our students with special needs, but have been inspired by the ingenuity in school districts' planning to provide for those students and families. I firmly believe that through collective effort and tailoring complex responses to fit complex situations, Maryland is far better situated for the upcoming school year than the end of last year.
Last Minute Guidance for Schools
Governor Hogan was noticeably silent this summer as school districts agonized over if, how, and when to bring students back into the classroom this fall. Last week, days before schools were set to reopen, the Governor announced state-wide health metrics for in-person instruction and urged all 24 districts to open this fall. While I'm glad that schools now have some of the metrics they have been asking for, making this last minute announcement has only sowed uncertainty and confusion.
Although these metrics will provide critical information to those who must wrestle with bringing students back, it is unreasonable to expect districts, administrators, educators, and families to flip the switch in only a few days. Leadership was needed long before now to garner trust from parents, educators, and their respective families and to guide school districts as they make decisions that deeply impact Maryland’s children.
As a former educator, I know that students are best served by in-person instruction. However, we need to take incremental steps, with a focus on students in greatest need, that are informed by rigorous and science-driven metrics that engender the faith of our communities. The last thing we can afford is further politicization of our public education system.
Legislative Oversight of MES Severance
Questions persist over why the Governor’s former chief of staff, Roy McGrath, was offered a year’s severance when he left a state agency to join the State House. In two separate hearings held by the Joint Committee Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight, members of the General Assembly questioned why the Maryland Environmental Service Board approved the $238,000 pay-out, as well as expenses in excess of $50,000 in the midst of an economic downturn.
Three Board members and the Service’s acting chief of staff, Beth Wojton, said they reluctantly approved the package after assurances from McGrath that he had the Governor’s blessing. The Governor later denied any knowledge of the deal at a press conference.

McGrath has refused to come before the Committee to offer his side of the story, but I was particularly disturbed to hear the Board feared “blowback” from the Governor’s office if they denied McGrath’s request. Unfortunately, there are still more questions than answers regarding the situation. The legislature's work will continue to ensure similar issues do not happen again.

As Maryland faces budget pressures and its residents work to stay afloat in this pandemic, we must have transparency from all government agencies entrusted and supported by increasingly precious taxpayer dollars.
General Election Updates
Many of you may be scratching your heads over how or where to cast your ballots this November. The Baltimore Sun has put together a helpful guide to help answer those questions that you can find here.
All Marylanders should have been sent a mail-in ballot application that they can mail back, or people can go to the State Board of Elections website to request ballots online. If you choose to mail your request form, put it in its pre-paid envelope and send it back as soon as possible to avoid mail and processing delays. 

There has been confusion as many people who already requested a mail-in ballot online also received a ballot application in the mail. You can check your voter registration and mail-in ballot request status by going to and entering your information when requested.

I was thrilled to see the Maryland Board of Elections announce this week that they will begin counting mail-in ballots on October 1st to ensure a timely count of all votes.

In case it's helpful as you make a plan to vote, a basic timeline for the 2020 General Election is below:
  • Late September: Mail-in ballots will be sent out
  • Tuesday, October 13: Voter registration deadline 
  • Tuesday October 20: Deadline for mail-in ballot requests
  • Monday, October 26 - Monday, November 2: Early Voting
  • Tuesday, November 3: Election Day
Breaking Ground in South Baltimore
It's taken eight years, hundreds of meeting hours between stakeholders, the creation of a Local Development Council and the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, and partnerships across every sector of our society, but South Baltimore is finally going to get the state of the art recreation center it deserves. I could not be more thrilled to see the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks begin construction for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center at Cherry Hill.

The Fitness and Wellness Center will serve as one of the City's regional hubs for indoor and outdoor recreation, tying into existing walk and bike path networks. The complex will include three pools, a community room, fitness studios, a basketball court, maker space, indoor walking track, and more.

The groundbreaking ceremony will take place later this month and with the goal of opening the facility in 2022.
Mixed News Regarding Unemployment Insurance
My office continues to work in coordination with Delegates Clippinger, Lierman, and Lewis's offices to help hundreds of constituents access their rightful unemployment insurance benefits. It has been incredibly frustrating to see so many people currently out of state, but who live or work in Maryland, have their benefits removed as a long review process plays out. We are doing everything we can to expedite the process, but too many people are still in need.

In a bit of good news, Maryland added 53,900 jobs in July and the state’s unemployment rate dropped below eight-percent; those numbers will only improve as statewide COVID-19 cases remain low.

Although federal unemployment assistance has ended, Maryland has applied for a program administered by FEMA to provide a $300 a week increase for those who have lost work due to the pandemic. Although temporary, it will add much-needed aid to those unable to find work in this challenging environment. To qualify for the new supplement, claimants must be eligible to receive at least $100 in regular weekly benefits and certify that they have lost work due to COVID-19. 
Maryland Moving into Stage Three
Governor Hogan announced this week that Maryland will move into Stage Three of its reopening plan at 5 p.m. today as COVID-19 metrics remain relatively stable, including hospitalizations. In practical terms, Phase 3 means that movie theaters may open at 50% capacity and a greater capacity allowance for retail stores and religious facilities.

Each jurisdiction still has the ability to move forward based on metrics in their immediate area. While Baltimore City is not entering Stage Three, certain restrictions will be loosened next week.
More Highlights
Baltimore has suspended recycling pick-up until at least the first of November, citing shortages of workers, increased demand due to the pandemic and sweltering heat. Drop-off locations can be found in the graphic above. Routine recycling pickup could resume earlier than November 1st if the backlog improves.
I am immensely proud of the work the legislature did last session to breathe new life into Pimlico Race Track. The multi-faceted entertainment venue will continue to host the Preakness Stakes, but will also serve as a community-centered space with walking paths, athletic fields, and areas geared toward book fairs, farmers’ markets, and outdoor festivals.
The number of Marylanders hospitalized due to COVID-19 is the lowest it’s been since March 31, and the state-wide positivity rate continues to fall. This is great news as we contemplate getting the State back on its feet. Governor Hogan ordered the third stage of reopening this week, with all businesses allowed to resume, including movie theaters and entertainment venues.
Delays and staggering cost over-runs continue to plague the Purple Line construction project. Last week, a circuit court granted a restraining order to prevent the Line’s contractors from demobilizing and abandoning the project while disputes are hammered out.
A brick walkway at Fort McHenry was damaged in preparation for Vice President Mike Pence’s video appearance at the RNC convention last month. The Maryland Republican Party will be responsible for the cost to repair the damage to the monument.

A House Committee met last week to explore how the Governor’s $19 million purchase of 500,000 COVID-19 tests have been used during the ongoing pandemic. Problems with the tests were evident when they arrived, with many missing critical parts. Governor Hogan later announced that a majority of the original tests were swapped out for different “upgraded” tests. With such a high price-tag, Marylanders deserve to understand how the tests were used and how many are still in circulation.
Maryland nursing homes are struggling to absorb the cost of employee-mandated COVID-19 testing after a State program ended last week. A new lab at the University of Maryland is offering facilities a state-negotiated cost of $40 per test; however, access to the program needs to be encouraged and expanded.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if there is anything we can do to help via email at, or phone via 410-841-3600 by leaving a voicemail to be returned promptly.