January 12, 2022
Today, Senators and Delegates convened in Annapolis to gavel in the 444th Session of the Maryland General Assembly. Our State has faced many deep and profound challenges over its long and storied history, and 2022 will be no different. The past two years have tested us all. It has revealed deep inequities in our systems, highlighted the critical importance of in-person education, and required us to respond quickly to the ever-changing demands of COVID-19.

I am tremendously proud of the many accomplishments we achieved during our last Session, including transformative police reform, shrinking our State’s digital divide, increasing voter access, and robust measures to address deep health disparities in Maryland. The work continues. In the 2022 Session, we will focus on five key areas: COVID-19, Cannabis, Climate, the Budget, and Community Safety. You can read more about those priorities below, and find information on the Maryland Senate’s 2022 Regular Session protocols here.
2022 Legislative Session Priorities
Changes to the Maryland General Assembly's operations won't stop us from pursuing a robust agenda that benefits all Marylanders for generations to come. We are intensely focused on addressing immediate needs created by COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, while also prioritizing long term issues like our State's economic and environmental health.
  • COVID-19: The rise of the Omicron variant has once again highlighted the fragility of our response to the pandemic. The highly contagious new strain now represents over 85% of current cases and has been identified in 91% of those hospitalized. The State’s positivity rate is amongst the highest of any point during the pandemic. Our most immediate priority is addressing the ongoing stress that COVID-19 is exerting on our State, paying particular attention to those who were hit the hardest. Whether it is providing high quality PPE to school personnel and students, supporting our health care workers, or elevating and protecting our small and minority-owned businesses, we will be decisive in combating the inequitable ramifications of the pandemic across Maryland.

  • Climate Crisis: It is our intent to make Maryland a national leader on Climate Solutions. The next generation of Marylanders, especially our most vulnerable populations, are asking us to act with urgency to enact common-sense solutions to tackle the climate crisis. This Session we will work to reduce our methane emissions, modernize our electric grid, and seek ways to invest in the green technology of the future. This is a top priority and will be something that reflects our commitment to protecting Maryland’s environment for future generations.

  • Cannabis: Cannabis legalization will be front and center during the 2022 Session. In addition to allowing Marylanders to vote on referendum legislation, we will be considering a framework for legalization that provides clarity and transparency. It is key that we ensure the new cannabis marketplace is inclusive and equitable, and that resources are used to support programs that address the long-standing negative impact of those affected by the war on drugs as well as those in over-policed communities.

  • Community Safety: Violent crime has risen during the pandemic, not only in Maryland but across the country. This Session, we are committed to drafting holistic and thoughtful solutions that address the complex factors driving the rise in crime. We must determine the best way to address the underlying causes and recognize that poverty and lack of opportunity are undeniable factors behind the statistics and lives lost. Specifically, the Senate will take on legislation that addresses prevention, intervention, criminal justice, and rehabilitation. 

  • Budget Surplus: The State’s budget surplus and fiscal health will be a key issue undergirding much of our work this legislative Session. Our goal is to be thoughtful and judicious in how we employ these resources so that we continue to strengthen our middle class, improve key services, strengthen our infrastructure, and support our private and public workforce.

I am excited to begin the work and look forward to the many challenges ahead. Despite plans to return to in-person public access and bill hearings, we made adjustments as a result of the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases. Many aspects of our 2022 Session will be virtual during the first month, though the full Senate will convene in-person and the Gallery will be open to the public with spacing in place. We hope to welcome the public back to committee hearings and sessions in mid-February when it is anticipated that cases will decline.
COVID-19 Updates
Governor Larry Hogan implemented a temporary state of emergency last Tuesday to help the State combat the precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases. The effort will assist hospitals with soaring bed occupancy numbers and staff shortages; expand the emergency medical services workforce; mobilize 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to assist with COVID-19 testing sites and some patient transport operations; open 20 new coronavirus testing sites adjacent to hospitals; and begin providing booster shots for 12- to 15-year-old kids in the State.

The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated or unboosted, straining the courageous and committed health professionals who are on the front lines of this pandemic. It is critical that we encourage as many people as possible to get their vaccinations and boosters, most notably our students ages 5 to 18. In-person learning is our priority, necessary to reverse learning deficits and address the socio-emotional impact on our students from the past two years.

In addition, emergency regulations were approved last week by the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) to extend universal masking in Maryland’s public schools with limited offramps. The regulation approved ensures this common sense mitigation strategy will continue well-beyond the original February expiration date, while helping keep our buildings open and safe for in-person instruction. Our students' educational attainment and socio-emotional well-being requires nothing less.
More News
The minimum wage in Maryland has risen from $11.75 an hour to $12.50 an hour for companies with 15 or more employees this year. It is set to continue to rise every year to $15 an hour by 2025. 

Maryland’s Department of Transportation announced a plan this week to transition to a zero-emission bus fleet, converting 50 percent of its fleet by 2030. The plan is designed to meet Maryland’s new Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act, passed last Session to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from public transit. 

Kudos to Baltimore’s H&S Bakery for handing out over 500 loaves of bread from a truck bound for Virginia to hungry and cold motorists stranded on I95 during last week’s snow storm. Co-owner Chuck Paterakis said: “If you don’t give back to the community … you as a company are not going to be able to succeed.”

More than 300 Baltimore Police officers and other employees are quarantined because of COVID-19. Of those quarantined, 227 police personnel have tested positive and 78 are awaiting test results. That’s roughly 12% of the 2,500 member force. 

As of last Tuesday, Baltimore has shut down in-person activities at City-operated senior centers due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
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.