March 22, 2022
Yesterday was the 69th day of the 2022 Legislative Session, known as “crossover.” This year has been fraught with unexpected challenges, but also momentous accomplishments that I am proud to have been a part of. Last week, the Senate of Maryland passed Senate Bill 275, the Time to Care Act.  This legislation would provide paid medical and family leave through an affordable insurance program that helps people in their most difficult moments. We also passed critical community safety legislation that will focus on prevention, intervention, criminal justice, and accountability.

As the country continues to witness the horrific events in Ukraine, the Senate also acknowledged that we are all making sacrifices through the divestment from Russian goods and commerce. To that end, the Maryland General Assembly unanimously passed Senate Bill 1010, which brings an immediate 30-day suspension of the State gas tax. This relief comes at a critical time when our country is affected by rising inflation. This bill will lower the cost of gas and return money to Marylanders' pocketbooks.

During the last three weeks of this session, the Senate of Maryland will remember Marylanders’ needs as we review each bill. We have already advanced public health and community safety initiatives, as well as bills addressing education, economic stability, and environmental protections so that all Marylanders can work and live safely in their communities.
Passing the FY 2023 Budget
Before the end of session each year, the legislature develops a budget for the following fiscal year that demonstrates our values. Lawmakers and the executive branch must consider the necessities of the people and allocate funds appropriately. I have worked with my colleagues in the Senate to develop a budget that serves each of our counties and Marylanders in a balanced approach. 

This past Friday, the Senate of Maryland passed a remarkable bipartisan budget for fiscal year 2023. In spite of the differences that we may all have, the Senate of Maryland prioritizes the people we serve. The Senate unanimously passed a $58.5 billion budget that fundamentally expresses our values as a chamber. We came together as Republicans and Democrats, in a unified fashion to work on behalf of the people of Maryland. 

The structurally balanced budget includes: 
  •  $3.3 billion in cash reserves;
  •  $350 million for tax relief to assist seniors and working families;
  •  $7.9 billion in funding for Maryland public schools; and
  •  $800 million as a down payment for Maryland's Blueprint.

We invest in our State's workforce by: 
  • Providing COLAs to State employees;
  • Increasing spending by 20% in our State's 4-year public colleges and universities; and
  • Investing in apprenticeship and training opportunities. 

The budget also prioritizes public safety, including $100 million for crime prevention and victim services. Finally, and particularly timely because of the last year, the budget provides an 8% increase in funding for most healthcare providers. 

In this current environment, with economic and global changes and challenges, this budget is a reflection of our unity and desire to come to the table each day to find solutions for each of our constituents. 
Paid Medical and Family Leave Passes Senate
Unexpected illness requires Marylanders to care for themselves or loved ones. As they do, many fear and ruminate upon how they will also provide for their families. On Friday, the Senate of Maryland passed historic legislation so that families do not have to choose between putting food on the table or caring for a loved one in moments of challenging medical predicaments. We have heard Marylanders’ passionate cries for help. When 88% of Marylanders agree that we all deserve support in our most vulnerable moments, the Senate must answer those calls. 

Currently, we are seeing exponential growth in the job market. Many businesses are beginning to offer paid medical and family leave as it becomes a more competitive benefit. We must recognize the reality that people will no longer settle with a company that will not provide necessities. By ensuring paid medical and family leave in the State of Maryland, we are compelling more individuals to work for Maryland businesses. When Maryland businesses thrive, our economy thrives and the workforce continues to increase.

That is why the Senate has passed the Time to Care Act, Senate Bill 275. The legislation:
  • Is affordable for employees, employers, and the State;
  • Requires well-established reasons for taking paid medical and family leave;
  • Provides substantial wages during leave; and
  • Protects workers from retribution and retaliation for taking leave while accounting for impact on employers.

Establishing paid medical and family leave is not only good for Maryland families, but it can also strengthen Maryland’s workforce. As the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board noted, now is the time for a paid medical and family leave program to begin in our State.
Update on 9-8-8 Hotline Legislation
Even before the pandemic, many individuals have suffered mental and behavioral health emergencies. The pandemic has unleashed and revealed the realities of this crisis when people cannot access the appropriate resources. Last week, the Senate of Maryland unanimously passed Senate Bill 241, establishing the universal federal 9-8-8 behavioral health and suicide prevention hotline that coordinates the delivery of resources for mental emergencies to all Marylanders. Many often call the police or utilize hospital emergency departments when experiencing a behavioral health episode. These often are not the appropriate methods of de-escalating a crisis. Senate Bill 241 ensures that Marylanders will receive the services necessary to re-stabilize the accurate community resources. 

The bipartisan support of this bill has conveyed the urgency to support Marylanders. After passing the Senate, it is now in the House of Delegates in the Health and Government Operations and Appropriations Committees. I look forward to keeping everyone updated on this important measure.
Morgan State Carnegie Classification
I am proud to announce that Senate Bill 841, the initiative to ensure Morgan State University has a plan to achieve R1 Carnegie Classification, has passed the Senate unanimously. Through this bill, the Senate recognizes Morgan State University’s vision to achieve the R1 Carnegie Classification. To receive the R1 Classification, the university must be conducting an advanced portfolio of extensive research. The rating can attract doctoral candidates and additional grant funding, as well as increase ways the university can contribute to society.

The university will continue to expand its influence beyond our City, State, and country. We believe that Morgan State can become the only Historically Black University to have this rating. The bill will encourage investment of $50 million to $75 million for annual research expenditures and issues that disproportionately impact communities of color. As Morgan State pursues this academic achievement, it will strengthen its commitment to its student body. Senate Bill 841 is now in the House in the Appropriations Committee where it will be considered.
More News
On Friday, we celebrated the 71st birthday of Sparky, the fire dog. We were joined by first responders and Sparky's canine pals from across the State as we were reminded of the important role of fire education.

The Baltimore Speaker Series at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall will have its last event on April 12, 2022. The guest speaker will be Bill Nye the Science Guy – for more information please visit their website.  

Many families have experienced challenges, especially during the pandemic. The Womb Room offers a free virtual support group to connect parents within the first year of parenthood to build friendships, and to exchange support and encouragement. For more information, please visit this link.

The Baltimore Museum of Art currently has an exhibition of the works of Henri Matisse. I encourage everyone to visit the BMA and the wonderful exhibitions that are on display. For more information please visit their website.

The Salvation Army is seeking volunteers to support low-income seniors. The "Grab n Go' Grocery Food program needs volunteers to help pack nutritious vegetables, grains, meats, and fruits at their warehouse this week. For more information please visit this link.
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.