October 5, 2022
I was deeply honored to receive the Maryland League of Conservation Voter's Legislator of the Year award alongside Speaker Adrienne Jones for our work to pass the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. The climate crisis is an existential threat, and I'm immensely proud of the work we did last legislative session to make Maryland a national leader in advancing policy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, we are one of the best-positioned states in the country to take advantage of the recent legislation at the federal level to invest in a green economy.
Early Counting of Mail-In Ballots in Court
Although the legislature passed legislation last Session that would have allowed for the early tabulation of mail-in ballots, Governor Hogan vetoed that bill and the State Board of Elections was forced to seek recourse through the court system. After delays in certifying the Primary Election due to inability to process mail-in ballots until after Election Day, Judge James Bonifant of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County granted relief through an order allowing local boards of elections to begin confidentially counting ballots as early as October 1.

Last week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied a request from Delegate Dan Cox to stay Judge Bonifant’s order. The case is now pending before the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest State court, which will hear the case on Friday

As a State, we continue to take steps to increase access to the ballot box so all our citizens’ voices can be heard. Thanks to legislation we passed in 2021, the Maryland State Board of Elections expects over 1 million Marylanders to vote by mail or by dropping their ballot at a drop-off box. Without the early canvassing of those ballots thanks to Judge Bonifant’s order, the delay could result in final results taking weeks to be determined, potentially creating turmoil across the State. The Maryland General Assembly will once again take up legislation to resolve this issue for future elections in the upcoming 2023 Legislative Session.
New Online Bill Pay for Baltimore City
Starting October 1, Baltimore now offers online billing through a new customer portal that allows residents to switch things like water billing to automatic payments. The new website is hosted through Paymentus and includes enhanced customer service features designed to improve the overall customer experience for residents seeking to pay their bills online. Features include Improved security, expanded payment options (Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, and Venmo), enhanced customer experience through a Customer Payment Portal, and additional walk-in locations starting in December 2022.

Customers with future or recurring payments scheduled through the City’s current portal will need to take action to reschedule payments through the new website. To schedule future or recurring payments, residents need to set up an account through Paymentus’s customer payment portal. The City has compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions to assist customers with the transition.
Baltimore Region North-South Corridor Study
The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) are working with Baltimore City and Baltimore County to determine the best way to serve passengers traveling between Towson and Downtown Baltimore. The North-South Corridor Study will help determine what combination of bus, light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail best fit the community; where stops and stations should be located and how close they should be to each other; what operating hours and frequency should be; and what types of physical improvements need to be made.

MDOT/MTA is requesting the public’s feedback on seven potential routes. Transportation between Towson and Downtown would expand access to jobs and services and support economic growth and sustainability goals. The online survey is available now through November 7. There will also be a virtual meeting October 3, from 6:00 to 7:00pm.
Community Safety Works Grant Program
Applications are now being accepted for the State’s second round of funding for the Community Safety Works program administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The program offers up to $10 million in funding for crime prevention strategies through physical design improvements, operational activities, community services, blight removal, and increased property maintenance. 
 
The additional $10 million in funding will include: upgrades to slow traffic and make streets more pedestrian friendly; removal of barriers to sight lines, opening closed spaces, and renovating public spaces to draw regular visitors and family activity; cleaning and beautifying streets, sidewalks, signage, and parks; surveillance tools such as lighting, cameras, organized local resident patrols or staffed security patrols; and community policing initiatives developed in consultation with local law enforcement.
 
Applications for the second round of funding are now open. Find more information about the Community Safety Works grant program here.
Baltimore GROW Events
Baltimore GROW Centers (Green Resources & Outreach for Watersheds) link city residents, communities, and faith-based groups to plants, materials, and technical expertise for greening projects. They provide free and low-cost trees, mulch, plants, and other materials, as well as free workshops on topics including community greening, vacant lot revitalization, installing rain gardens and rain barrels, environmental justice, and composting.
 
Now that Fall has arrived, I encourage you to visit an upcoming GROW Center pop-up event or workshop:
  • October 5, 5:00 to 6:30pm: Bee Keeping Workshop @ Filbert Street Garden (1317 Filbert Street, 21226). Register online here.
  • October 12, 5:00 to 7:00pm: Pop-up @ Conkling Street Garden (25 S. Conkling Street, 21224).
  • October 27, 5:00 to 6:30pm: Greening Resource Workshop (Virtual). Register online here.
More News
Last Week, I visited Baltimore’s newest newsroom, The Baltimore Banner located right here in the 46th Legislative District! Baltimore and Maryland thrive when we have in-depth and robust local news coverage. Welcome to Baltimore, and it was nice to say hello to many familiar reporters.

We recently celebrated the newly renovated Dypski Park in Canton. We’ve always loved our neighborhood play spaces but have come to appreciate them even more over the last two years. That’s part of why we passed the Great Maryland Outdoors Act, and why we are committed to dedicating millions of dollars in annual funding for projects right here in Baltimore. Learn more about the new Dypski Park here.
  
Congratulations to retired Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera for becoming the first woman chief judge and the first woman to have her official portrait hung at the high court in Annapolis this week.
  
University of Maryland dedicated the Johnson-Whittle Residence Hall last week to honor two alumni who broke racial boundaries and helped diversify the campus. In 1951, Hiram Whittle became the first African American male admitted to UMD. Elaine Johnson Coates graduated from the University in 1959, becoming the first African American woman to graduate from the State school.
 
Move it on over! A new law went into effect this week, requiring Maryland drivers to reduce their speed or move over when passing any stopped cars displaying warning signals. Violators will face a $110 fine and a incur a point to their driving record.

The Legislative Committee Workgroup to Study Judicial Selection began its work late last month to study how judges are selected in Maryland. The group will study national trends and established methods of selecting and retaining trial judges. The Group consists of interested organizations, attorneys, and current and retired judges, and will issue a report based on academic examination, public testimony, and discussions with subject matter experts. 
 
The National Aquarium and Enoch Pratt Free Library are bringing back their Read to Reef program to encourage reading about aquatic life and conservation. Starting this week, students in the fifth grade and younger with a Pratt Library card can get a bookmark to track their reading. Participants who read any five aquatic or conservation-themed books can enter the code on their bookmark to reserve up to four free admissions to the National Aquarium through January 16.
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.