June 28, 2021
As the school year has come to an end and the Fourth of July is around the corner, I’m reminded how different life is in comparison to this time last year and what an honor it is to represent Maryland’s 46th Legislative District in the Maryland Senate. Over the last couple of months I’ve had the opportunity to rejoin neighborhood association meetings, knock on doors to check in with friends and neighbors after the 2021 Legislative Session, and had the pleasure of attending community events like the Juneteenth celebration in Cherry Hill last weekend.

Each of these encounters leaves me inspired by what’s ahead and reinforces just how much we collectively missed over the last year. As the states of emergency in both Baltimore City and the State of Maryland end on July 1, we know that the pandemic’s impacts are still being disparately felt and recovery is not happening equally. At the same time, history has repeatedly shown that societies often have some of their brightest days in the aftermath of unimaginable difficulty and I still firmly believe that rebuilding from the COVID-19 pandemic will be the same. From Cherry Hill to Patterson Park and Federal Hill to Greektown, Baltimore’s richness is on full display. I look forward to seeing many of you in-person again in the near future.
Community Activism and Support in Cherry Hill
The Baltimore Sun wrote a poignant article on the incredible Cherry Hill neighborhood in South Baltimore, celebrating the community’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially around food insecurity. Despite immense challenges, community leaders partnered with food pantries, nonprofits, and the local clinic staff to run food and personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution events. The results are self-evident: from the first distribution in March 2020 through the end of July, more than 100,000 pounds of food, as well as high-demand household supplies like dish soap and toilet paper, were distributed to over 3,000 residents. 

In addition to the community's work on food insecurity, Safe Streets Cherry Hill recently celebrated yet another year without a homicide. As legislators aim to find long-term solutions to challenges like food deserts, I am deeply encouraged by the work being done in Cherry Hill that models what community-based programs have the potential to achieve.
Lack of Progress in Unemployment Insurance
Tens of thousands of Marylanders are facing a cliff as Governor Hogan has decided to prematurely end Maryland’s participation in the federally extended unemployment insurance program as of July 3. Adding insult to injury, the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight held a hearing with Department of Labor officials last week and heard that there are still over 24,000 pending claims - many of which have been filed by Marylanders in dire and frustrating situations. 

The 46th District delegation continues to assist well over 300 constituents who still cannot access rightful benefits due to document review delays, inability to speak to a claim agent capable of adjudicating their case, and issues related to the Department's transition between online systems. This reality is unacceptable and I am deeply concerned by the Department of Labor’s lack of progress in implementing reforms from the General Assembly’s 2021 emergency legislative package to improve customer service and access to benefits. Government must be a place that residents can turn to when facing hardship and we owe it to Marylanders to fix this broken system.
New Maryland Laws
In the two months since the end of the 2021 Legislative Session, we have celebrated the enactment of dozens of bills passed by the General Assembly this year. On Monday, legislators including Senators Craig Zucker and Malcolm Augustine commemorated the Thomas Bloom Raskin Act, named in memory of U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin’s late son, Tommy, that will become law on July 1. The measure will strengthen crucial mental health services for Marylanders by establishing voluntary mental health check-ins with trained mental health professionals through the 211 system. 

A number of other critical Senate Bills will become law on July 1, including legislation to:
  • Expand access to telehealth services and access (SB3);
  • Compensate exonerated individuals consistently who have were wrongly convicted and incarcerated (SB14);
  • Bridge Maryland’s digital divide (SB66);
  • Retain healthy food options in food deserts (SB365); and
  • Ensure all Maryland students have access to clean drinking water at school (SB546).

Several election reform measures are also now law as of June 1. The package of legislation will make voting more accessible by increasing the number of Early Vote sites throughout the State, expand access to mail-in voting, and improve ballot access for eligible voters who are incarcerated.
Reimagining Our Public Safety System
The violence witnessed in our City and State over the last few weeks remains heartbreaking and unacceptable. We must take a proactive approach that mitigates issues before they spiral out of control. In concrete terms, that means implementing strategies that utilize community-based violence intervention programs. We know community-based approaches are successful: the Safe Streets program in Baltimore City has a strong track record of successfully deterring gun violence and The Washington Post recently highlighted Montgomery County’s crisis centers, including a 24/7 mobile crisis unit, that are being deployed to address individuals experiencing mental health crises. 

These initiatives have the potential to alleviate the burden that officers face as they are asked to solve a slew of problems outside the scope of their training. As a society, we must move in this direction to reimagine a system of public safety that accurately matches emergencies with the best response. At the same time The Washington Post article highlights the complexity of this shift in services, including the remaining need for police intervention in many instances. 

I was also glad to see Mayor Scott travel to Washington D.C. last week to participate in a roundtable meeting with President Biden and Attorney General Garland on gun violence. I am thankful for the commitment of President Biden to supporting violence intervention programs similar to Safe Streets and funding them through the American Rescue Plan. Baltimore will be one of 14 cities or counties where these initiatives will be targeted over the next 18 months. Further, the White House announced that it is focused on the immediate goal of anticipating and responding to violence this summer, as well as cracking down on illegal gun trafficking.

A long-term approach to address all aspects of public safety in Maryland will require deep thoughtfulness. Ensuring that Baltimore and Maryland are safe for all of our residents requires this kind of multi-pronged approach: bolstering community-based interventions, stopping gun trafficking, and ensuring constitutional policing that creates a meaningful impact.
COVID-19 Progress and Mask Mandate Lifting
We are clearly seeing the impact of vaccinations preventing COVID-19 transmission: for the first time since October, Maryland reported multiple full days last week with no new deaths due to COVID-19. Maryland also continues to report record lows of daily cases, hospitalizations, and the testing positivity rate. As a result of the incredible progress our City and State have made, starting July 1, Baltimore City will lift its citywide mask mandate and state of emergency, though businesses and workplaces can opt to maintain their own mask mandates. 

Last week’s news that Novavax, a Gaithersburg-based company, has a vaccine that is highly effective against COVID-19 and its variants underscores the work that is being done in Maryland to fight the global pandemic. Additionally, community leaders and organizers continue to play key roles in ensuring that Marylanders, particularly people of color, have access to and accurate information about the vaccine. As the mask mandate lifts next week, I encourage any unvaccinated individuals to get the vaccine as soon as possible and for each of us to treat one another with compassion as we adjust to new regulations.

The Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup is meeting right now to hear from the Maryland Department of Health about the State's ongoing efforts to vaccinate as many eligible individuals as possible. The meeting's livestream can be found on YouTube and viewed here.
Search for Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners Candidates
Last week, Mayor Scott announced the search for individuals to fill three seats on the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. The Board plays a crucial role in overseeing Baltimore City Public Schools and supporting the academic success of the District’s 78,000 students. Interested parties can fill out the online application, which is open through August 20. Additionally, the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success will hold a virtual Board of School Commissioners Information Session today, June 28 from 5-6 p.m.
BCRP Hiring Lifeguards and Park Ambassadors
With the official first day of summer last Sunday, the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) is hiring lifeguards for the 2021 Swim Season. Positions depend on certifications and experience, and applicants ages 15 years and older are welcome to apply online. Additionally, BCRP is hiring Park Ambassadors, who will educate the public about City Parks’ historical and ecological value, and rules and regulations. The online application can be found here. As more folks get outside this summer, these roles will help keep both Marylanders and our outdoors spaces safe and thriving.
More News
The Washington Post published an op-ed touting the strength of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future as a national model that should be replicated by states like Virginia and around the country. The Blueprint will ensure that Maryland is once again an educational example for the rest of the country and I remain unbelievably proud of the General Assembly’s commitment to our children. 

Colorado has recently created a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to evaluate fair pricing in the medication market, adopting a similar model to the Board that Maryland approved in the 2019 Legislative Session.

Maryland U.S. Representative and House majority leader Steny Hoyer penned an op-ed in Maryland Matters highlighting the American Rescue Plan, including the child tax credit being implemented next month to cut child poverty in half and benefit thousands of Maryland’s families. 

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has charged two pet stores in Towson and Rockville with consumer violations for allegedly selling puppies. These charges violate the No More Puppy-Mills Act, which was passed by the General Assembly to curb irresponsible breeding practices. 

I was thrilled to see The Baltimore Sun highlight the work of Kendra Summer at Maree G. Farring Elementary School to support her community in Brooklyn. Ms. Summer is an inspiration - organizing food drives, communicating with families around housing rights and students’ virtual learning needs, and serving as an ambassador for the Baltimore City Health Department to build trust in the vaccine are just a few of the things she has done to help the community. 

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.