June 12, 2020
The last few weeks have continued to lay bare the immense societal challenges we must grapple with as COVID-19 highlights existing inequities, especially in communities of color. We have seen nearly unprecedented, sustained protests for police reform and equal justice under the law, Baltimore set the example for the rest of the nation for youth-led, peaceful action. While we saw a Primary Election with numerous issues between ballot distribution, printing, and long lines at polling locations, Baltimore saw the highest turnout rate in Maryland, largely driven by voters who usually do not engage in primary elections.

We still have much to do in resolving these underlying problems, but the glimmers of hope and progress amidst the issues deserve acknowledgement.
Protests and Reform
Baltimore City's young people continue to give me hope through their tireless advocacy and passion as they demand reforms to our system of policing and justice in our city, state, and nation. Seeing thousands of Baltimoreans protesting for a better future is what this moment demands after the senseless murder of George Floyd and resulting instances of police brutality as protests similar to those in Baltimore have sprung up around the country. At the same time, we are seeing advocacy throughout the State of Maryland in places like Bel Air, Bowie, and Pasadena in a way that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

We are recognizing as a community that there is a fundamental problem with police brutality and racism in our criminal justice system. Despite efforts towards equality and justice, the results of those efforts are woefully insufficient – our system remains broken. We cannot stand by and say that we’ve done enough, because we haven’t. We must work tirelessly to change not just the behavior of police but the outcomes in policing. We must listen, go back to the drawing board, and continue to fight for equality and justice until we are certain that policing in America is truly fair and just.
In response, Senator Will Smith, Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, wrote a letter calling for police accountability and reform. In the letter, Senator Smith proposed several changes to current law, noting that, “we cannot continue to do what we’ve been doing.” Proposed changes include expanding the Maryland Public Information Act to include complaints and disciplinary records about police officers involved in certain cases; banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring warning before shooting, and requiring other officers to intervene if another officer uses excessive force; and creating a special unit within the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute cases involving police misconduct or an officer involved killing.

Many of my colleagues in the Senate have been moving Maryland forward on issues of police and criminal justice reform for years and I want to thank them for their ongoing leadership. We will only get many of these initiatives across the finish line with their continued partnership and input on the final product.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold public hearings on Senator Smith’s proposed legislation in the fall to solicit public feedback prior to the next Legislative Session. Changes in our law are essential to restore trust between law enforcement and communities they police, and Senator’s Smith letter brought us one step closer towards accomplishing that goal.
Baltimore City Election Results
I was inspired by the record-breaking turnout in Baltimore City and throughout the state in the election last Tuesday. I was especially encouraged by the many voters who turned out to vote by mail or at the polling places for the first time in years. Even during a global pandemic, people were not deterred from exercising their constitutional right and electing our next generation of leaders. 

I want to congratulate Council President Brandon Scott, Delegate Nick Mosby, and Councilman Bill Henry in particular for their victories in the Primary Election as they take on immense responsibility at a time when our City needs strong and consistent leadership. I also look forward to continuing my work with the entire City Council including Councilmembers Cohen, McCray, Costello, Stokes, as well as expanding the partnership with Phylicia Porter and Tony Glover as they join the Council.

While there is still a General Election ahead of us, I have immense hope for the passion and ideas each person will bring to the new Administration. Baltimore has a unique opportunity ahead of us as we rebuild our economy and attract new residents to the cultural center of Maryland when the COVID-19 pandemic is eventually behind us. The bold ideas at the forefront of the conversation over the last few months will set a strong agenda moving forward.
At the same time, there were numerous issues with the administration of the election that must be addressed before November. The people of the State rely on their government for openness and transparency. In this precarious moment for our democracy, now more than ever, those of us in public office owe a heightened duty to the people of transparency and effectiveness.

The General Assembly is conducting an in-depth review of what exactly went wrong and we will improve our election process for the future. The Senate Education, Health, & Environmental Affairs Committee and House Ways & Means Committee will hold a hearing on June 16th at 1pm. That hearing will be live streamed on the General Assembly's YouTube page for all who want to watch.
Phased Re-openings
On Wednesday, Governor Hogan announced that the state would be continuing into the next phase of its reopening plan as the positivity rate for the state continues to decline. As of today, the state’s positivity rate is 6.93%. The decisions made by the Governor are still up to the discretion of each jurisdiction's leadership as they follow the guidance of local health experts to make decisions.

While the declines in positive rate and hospital bed usage are encouraging signs, I remain weary of moving too quickly as we see the impact of phased reopenings over time. I appreciated Dr. Tom Inglesby's feedback on the Governor's actions as detailed in the Baltimore Sun . The uptick in COVID-19 cases over the last few days in states that reopened before Maryland reinforce the need to be cautious and save lives.

Baltimore City is continuing to take a measured approach and is reopening more slowly. Details on what is currently open in the City, as well as criteria for moving into Phase 2 is above.

Under the Governor’s announcement, as of 5pm on Friday:

  • Restaurants can resume indoor operations at 50 percent capacity, with appropriate distancing, and following strict public health requirements consistent with the CDC, FDA, and the National Restaurant Association. You can read the Maryland Department of Health directives here.  
  • Outdoor amusements and rides, including miniature golf and go-kart tracks, may resume with appropriate health and safety protocols. Capacity restrictions at pools will be increased to 50 percent with strict safety guidelines still in place. You can read guidelines and best practices here.

In addition, the Governor made announcements concerning indoor fitness activities and casinos, arcades, and malls effective June 19th, as well as guidance on child care facilities, graduation ceremonies, and more. You can find more information here
Unemployment Insurance Updates
Marylanders continue to face challenges with the State’s unemployment insurance. To date, the 46th District Delegation team has has collectively referred over 300 constituents to the Department of Labor for resolution and that number is far from unique across the State. I am continuing to work with colleagues in the 46th District and Senate to advocate on behalf of constituents waiting to receive their benefits.

Although the Department has paid over $2.2 billion dollars in claims since the pandemic began, over 70,000 claims are still outstanding and pending adjudication. That means that tens of thousands of Marylanders are still waiting for their benefits, trying to figure out how to pay their bills day by day. We will continue to fight for improvements to the unemployment system until the Department resolves each and every outstanding claim.
More Highlights
While in-person community meetings may not be possible for a while, I'm thrilled to join so many of District 46's neighborhood associations virtually as they adapt to an online meeting model. It was a pleasure to speak with the Canton Community Association and SB7 Executive Committee last month. If your neighborhood association isn't on the list for this month, I hope to see you at the next meeting in the coming weeks!

Over the last month, I have had the opportunity to conduct some insightful interviews with Marylanders doing fascinating work across multiple sectors. Last Thursday, I had a conversation with Pulitizer-Award winning reporter Luke Broadwater on his time as a journalist at the Baltimore Sun before he moved to the New York Times this week. Two weeks prior, I was honored to be joined by Dr. Freeman Hrabowski as we dicussed his inspiring personal story, how he has brought UMBC worldwide acclaim, and his thoughts on the future of higher education in the age of COVID-19. We host these interviews on my Facebook page, which you can view here .
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if there is anything we can do to help via email at bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us , or phone via (410) 841-3600 by leaving a voicemail to be returned promptly.