April 3, 2023
The one week countdown to Sine Die and the adjourning of the Maryland General Assembly’s 445th Legislative Session has officially begun. Taking a moment to reflect on where we started to where we are now, our State government looks fundamentally different than it did when we gaveled into Session in January. We have a new set of constitutional officers, new cabinet secretaries in almost every single State agency, and a new level of collaboration that is leading to better policy for all Marylanders. 

Through our coordination with the House of Delegates, the Governor’s Office, and the Republican Caucus, we have made decisive investments and changes that will benefit our residents, economy, infrastructure, and environment. I have long believed that we do our best work when all voices are incorporated in the legislative process and that has borne out over the course of the last 83 days.

Over that time, we have given voters the critical decision of whether to safeguard reproductive health access in our State’s constitution. We have created opportunities for students to engage with their local communities and find fulfilling careers that will benefit their families and our State. We have reduced the potential for gun violence to break out in sensitive spaces, thereby protecting our residents from preventable loss of life. We have invested in a green energy future and spurred economic growth that will combat the climate crisis. We have created an equitable and restorative framework for legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis, creating an entirely new industry that has the potential to remediate the harms caused by the failed war on drugs. 

We will be working around the clock over the next week to ensure the 2023 Legislative Session is a session that all Marylanders can be proud of. Thank you for your ongoing partnership and feedback. I look forward to being back in the 46th Legislative District full-time after our work finishes on April 10.
FY 2024 Operating Budget Heads to the Governor
When things are heated, and there are conversations about dollar amounts or programs, it's very easy to discount the actual impact. We are blessed to live in an incredible State where we have invested in public schools for decades. This year's $8.78 billion investment will implement one of the most aggressive reforms and improvements in public education of any State in the country.

Additionally, we are investing a record $900 million for future year Blueprint costs because, in Maryland, we must have a great system of public schools for years to come. Given our resources, we also have the opportunity to invest in institutions and, most importantly, parents and children so they can maximize their potential in a different environment. 

It was important that at the end of last week’s debate around the BOOST program, we recentered the conversation around the kids and families that benefit. It is easy in politics to frame debates as a false dichotomy of public versus private, or good versus bad. The reality is often much more complex and needs to be grounded in what is best for people. 

Ultimately, I’m grateful that we could reach an agreement that invested $11.5 million in ensuring low-income families can access the best possible educational experience that fits their child’s needs while making groundbreaking investments in public education for years to come. I am incredibly proud of the Fiscal Year 2024 Operating Budget that the conference committee adopted last Friday and look forward to moving an equally impactful Capital Budget in the coming days.
Equitable Framework for Legal Cannabis Market
After Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis last November, the Maryland General Assembly has been hard at work crafting legislation to set up an equitable framework for regulation, licensing, and taxation. Senate Bill 516/House Bill 556 reflect the work that has been done to repair the injustices to communities caused by the failed war on drugs and set a national model for implementation of a legal market, learning from other states’ policies who have undertaken similar initiatives. 

The Senate and House of Delegates will work through final changes in the coming days, but we are committed to ensuring the legal market is open for Marylanders on July 1, 2023. As passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 516 ensures that small cannabis businesses are supported by being eligible to apply for a license without needing a brick and mortar facility, while lowering application costs and reserving licenses for individuals who live in disproportionately impacted areas of the State.

Senate Bill 516 also unifies the regulations for cannabis so regardless of whether an individual is using cannabis recreationally or medically, it will be regulated in the same fashion. Further, the bill sets aside millions of dollars for the communities most harmed by the failed war on drugs.

I am confident a final bill will be approved by the Maryland General Assembly and sent to Governor Moore in the next week.
Key Bills Passing Both Chambers
It will be a sprint to the finish line before we adjourn on April 10, but a number of critical bills have already passed both chambers and are moving to the Governor’s desk. Both chambers are moving with urgency after the crossover deadline two weeks ago. Transformational policy will be enacted pending Governor Moore’s or the voters’ hopeful approval, including: 

  • Senate Bill 202/House Bill 279, strengthening the Prescription Drug Affordability Board’s mandate to lower the cost of prescription medication for Marylanders by setting upper payment limits;
  • Senate Bill 3, allocating $12 million in funding for Maryland’s 9-8-8 behavioral health hotline to assist Marylanders in crisis; 
  • Senate Bill 101/House Bill 48, improving access to behavioral healthcare by increasing collaboration between primary and behavioral health providers;
  • Senate Bill 581, allowing for the implementation of creative behavioral healthcare solutions for our highest-need patients;
  • Senate Bill 540, authorizing Maryland’s Attorney General to investigate, prosecute, and remediate civil rights violations;
  • Senate Bill 552, expanding the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits to support Maryland’s working families and reduce child poverty in our State;
  • Senate Bill 786/House Bill 812, protecting the data privacy of patients and providers engaged in reproductive care in Maryland; and
  • Senate Bill 798/House Bill 705, giving Maryland voters the ability to place the fundamental right to reproductive freedom in our State Constitution. I am grateful to Speaker Adrienne Jones for her leadership on this issue and appreciated the opportunity to partner on this vital measure this Session.
East Palestine Water Blocked from Baltimore
Many Maryland residents justifiably were concerned about the plan for East Palestine wastewater coming to our City for processing. I am thankful that Clean Harbors, the company that operates our industrial wastewater facility, decided not to bring the toxic Ohio waste to Baltimore after a letter from Mayor Scott’s Administration refusing to treat that water at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

I am deeply sympathetic about the need for communities around the country to receive the water to be treated, but agree with Mayor Scott that Baltimore should not have been one of those sites. The Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant has struggled with staffing issues in recent years that have created issues for the plant’s operations and customers. That’s exactly why the Maryland General Assembly is working on Senate Bill 880/House Bill 843 to improve the governance of our Baltimore regional water system.
More News
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future's initial implementation reports prioritize hiring and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers. We are strengthening those efforts through the Maryland Educator Shortage Act of 2023 that just passed the Senate Committee on Education, Energy, and the Environment with amendments earlier today.

Maryland saw 109 reported incidents of antisemitism in 2022, a 98% increase from 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. That’s exactly why the Senate has advanced a package to address rising antisemitism, including Senate Bills 5, 840, 841, and 842 this Session. I am hopeful all four bills will pass the House of Delegates over the next week.

The Maryland Department of Health is starting to disburse $3.5 million in funds allocated for abortion care training that the Hogan administration withheld. A two-thirds majority in the legislature ultimately overrode the veto of the legislation establishing the training program, but former Governor Hogan declined to release funding that could have created the program in 2022. 

Last week, the FDA announced a policy change that will allow Naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, to be available over the counter. This change is a huge win, especially as Maryland currently ranks No. 6 in the nation in opioid deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Cherry Hill Enoch Pratt Library branch will host two free financial health workshops later this month. The seminar on April 13 will teach attendees how to save and budget their finances, and the seminar on April 20 will teach attendees how to build and manage their credit. 

YouthWorks has partnered with Code in the Schools to create a fulfilling and educational summer coding program for Baltimore City middle and high school students. Applications are now open, and you may apply for the program here

The Rhonda Ray Scholarship is a publicly funded scholarship that honors the memory of Rhonda Ray, a dedicated economic development professional and MEDA member for over 20 years. The application is now open, or if you would like to donate to the scholarship fund, you can find more information here.
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.