May 14, 2021
Maryland is opening-up after a long, challenging year, thanks to people rolling up their sleeves and receiving the vaccination, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing. Yesterday, the CDC announced that anyone who is fully vaccinated can enjoy indoor or outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. Although Maryland is retaining the indoor mask mandate until 70% of Marylanders are vaccinated, there is much to celebrate.
 
One of the things I have missed over the last year has been knocking on doors and meeting the neighbors who share this wonderful City with me. I am thrilled to say I am back at it. I look forward to standing on a stoop, a step, or a landing to hear about the issues that concern you and how they impact your lives. I want to share with you the incredible and historic work accomplished during the 2021 Session, how we will accelerate our recovery from the pandemic, and how we can work together to make Maryland and Baltimore a more inclusive and just place to live.
 
Life is getting back to normal. Despite the cancellation of the 4th of July fireworks and Artscape, we have much to look forward to: The Preakness, Orioles’ games, ice cream trucks, and crab feasts. I look forward to seeing you—really seeing you---soon!
Join Me for a D46 Virtual Legislative Town Hall
Please join me, Delegate Luke Clippinger, Delegate Brooke Lierman, and Delegate Robbyn Lewis for a virtual 2021 Session Recap Legislative Town Hall on May 19th from 5-6pm!
 
Although the annual Town Hall couldn’t happen in-person this year, the 46th District Delegation will give an update on the progress made in the 2021 Legislative Session. From COVID-19 recovery to police reform and voting rights, to bridging the digital divide, this was one of the most important sessions to date.

The Town Hall will be streamed via Facebook Live and District 46 residents will be able to join the Zoom and ask questions by registering through this link.

New Initiative to Support Maryland’s Youth
Maryland's children have suffered mightily over the past year. Isolated from their friends, stuck inside to learn on a computer, not to mention the loss of the hallmarks of childhood—sports, the prom, graduation, field day, public pools, band, art class. It’s not surprising that those in underserved communities have been hit the hardest. This week the Governor unveiled Project Bounce Back, a first-of-its-kind initiative to address the emotional, social, and educational impact of the pandemic on our State’s youth.
 
The $25 million public-private partnership will provide children and their families with a support network geared toward providing critical services and to help communities bounce back from the ravages of COVID. The Project will join forces with the Department of Education; the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victims Services; LinkedIn Learning; KPMG; Discourse Analytics; and eCare Vault, among others. The Maryland Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs will be expanded into every county in Maryland with the goal of reaching 45,000 children across the State. Six regional mental health crisis teams composed of counselors, psychologists, and experts will work with schools to provide much-needed scaffolding for children striving to overcome the deficits of the past year.
Federal Recovery Funds Come to Maryland
Maryland will receive more than $6 billion in federal funds thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act passed earlier this year, with Baltimore receiving $670 million of the funds. The aid package is intended to spur a national recovery in the wake of the pandemic and will be available to cities and counties to pay for costs related to the pandemic.
 
These critical federal dollars will be used to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, provide aid to families most affected by the pandemic, increase pay for essential workers, and expand broadband infrastructures. The judicious and thoughtful use of these critical resources will help Maryland get back on its feet, and fuel the vibrant economic engine needed to move our State into a more prosperous future.
Good News on the COVID Front
This week, Maryland reported the fewest new COVID cases since last summer, with the positivity rate falling below three percent for the first time since last fall. Hospitalizations and deaths from the virus continue to decline as more of us get vaccinated.
 
There are now more than 2.5 million Marylanders who have been fully vaccinated, representing two-thirds of the state’s adult population. On Thursday, 455,000 children aged 12 to 15 became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, with many children getting vaccinated as we speak.
 
In response to these great numbers, Governor Hogan lifted many COVID restrictions effective Saturday. Restaurants, entertainment venues, and sporting events can return to 100% capacity, both indoors and outdoors. Masks are still required inside businesses and in outdoor venues like stadiums and concert halls. Baltimore City has decided to take a more cautious approach, lifting its indoor capacity restrictions effective this Monday with a few exceptions; convention, banquet, indoor live performances, movies, and games will be limited to 50% capacity.
 
Soon more Marylanders will be able to receive their COVID-19 vaccine through their primary care physician. The Maryland Department of Health has announced the expansion of a critical program that enlists the participation of family practitioners to get shots in the arms of the State’s hardest-to-reach residents and those with more complicated health issues.

Baltimore City Schools A Model for COVID Testing
Kudos to Baltimore City Schools Chief Sonja Santelises for making the City’s school system a national model for COVID testing. Each week, upwards of 15,000 people are tested for the virus, many before they exhibit symptoms. The effort is aimed at preventing the spread of infection within schools to protect in-person learning that will ultimately minimize learning gaps in students. Baltimore schools have become the City’s largest testing source and heralded as a model for districts around the country.
911 Pilot Program Announced in Baltimore
Starting in June, 911 calls from those experiencing a mental health crisis may be diverted from police to social workers and clinicians. The Citywide 911 Diversion Pilot, a partnership between the City and Baltimore Crisis, Inc., aims to provide callers with the resources and responses that best fit their needs. Fewer emergency calls will allow officers to spend more time fighting crime and building relationships in the community.
 
The General Assembly passed meaningful police reform legislation this session, and programs like this support those efforts. Last year, 911 operators fielded 13,000 behavioral health-related calls. Redirecting those callers to trained behavioral health professionals will yield better outcomes for our citizens and result in fewer high-risk police encounters. Efforts like this move us closer to the goal of make policing safer, more transparent, and more accountable. 
More News
I encourage you to read this editorial in the Capital Gazette which addresses the powerful impact the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will have on the children of our State. The author highlights five key policy initiatives in the law, including early childhood education for those in poverty; higher pay and professional development for educators; laser focus on college and career-path readiness; wrap-around support for those most in need; and measurable accountability and oversight of outcomes. The ground-breaking initiative reflects the best-practices revealed by the Kirwan Commission’s four-year study of the world’s most effective education systems.
 
Maryland’s four historically Black universities have announced they will use the $577 million settlement from a federal lawsuit to expand scholarships and support high-demand programs in science, technology, engineering, and math. Monies will also be directed toward construction projects, technology, and long-deferred maintenance issues on the four campuses. The university presidents have pledged to employ the resources to strengthen their communities and provide Black graduates with the academic and career support necessary to shrink the wealth gap between racial groups. The settlement was a result of legislation we passed this session to set aside funding that could be used to settle the 15 year court battle and strengthen our HBCUs.
 
A Baltimore Sun editorial this week called for less bickering and more teamwork to address the City’s surge in violent crime. Governor Hogan and Mayor Scott met on Thursday to end a week-long, back-and-forth over their differing views on the underlying causes and proposed solutions to the tragic loss of life in the City and its devastating impact on families and the broader community.
 
Maryland has become the fifth state to ban cosmetic testing on animals, thanks to a bill passed during the 2021 legislative session. Sponsored by Senator Clarence Lam, the law will prohibit the sale of any cosmetic product that has been tested on animals after January 1, 2022, bringing Maryland in line with California, Nevada, and Illinois, as well as over 40 countries.
 
The Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to Maryland’s ban on the sale and possession of bump stocks and other embellishments that make guns faster and deadlier. Maryland’s ban preceded a nationwide prohibition that followed the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead.
 
There is growing frustration within the Board of Public works over Governor Hogan’s unwillingness to forward government contracts for approval in accordance with Maryland law. One in four emergency contracts related to the COVID-19 pandemic have missed a statutory deadline for review by the panel. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp said the delays were a threat to the authority of the Board and deprived Marylanders of the ability to know where their tax-dollars were being spent. 
 
Over 2,500 owner-occupied homes will be removed from Baltimore’s May 17 tax sale, an online auction that the City uses to collect overdue bills. Monday’s announcement came after weeks of advocacy by housing-rights groups who argue the auctions are “predatory” and disproportionally impact low-income and elderly homeowners.

On Monday, May 17th at 4 p.m., the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup will be meeting to receive an update from the State Department of Health on current vaccination efforts and next steps. The meeting can be viewed online 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.