June 26, 2020
After an intense few months of social distancing, school and business closures, and public health education Maryland is continuing to see the positive effects of these measures. The collective efforts of Marylanders to keep one another safe has doubtlessly saved lives. At the same time, we must keep a vigilant eye on the data as the state continues its reopening to avoid going back to an unsustainable rate of infection. Reports from states that reopened early on like Florida, Arizona, and Texas are troubling, to say the least. It is imperative that even as restrictions are relaxed, we continue doing what we can, like wearing a mask when in public, to safeguard our neighbors. The Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup will continue monitoring trends and advocating to the Governor as appropriate.
Updates from Annapolis
Access to the ballot box is fundamental to our democracy and a bedrock responsibility of our government. It was critical that after the shortcomings of the June Primary Election, the Maryland General Assembly hear directly from the State Board of Elections to determine what went wrong at each step of the process to find solutions for the future. Last week, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) and House Ways and Means Committees held a joint hearing to get those answers. It was live-streamed on YouTube and can be viewed here .

I n follow up, EHEA Committee Chair Paul Pinsky and I sent a letter to the State Board of Elections this week with a list of proposals to address those issues. We have encouraged the State Board of Elections to:

  1. Send every Maryland voter a mail-in ballot application in case the election is held in-person;
  2. Increase drop box locations for mail-in ballots;
  3. Reinstate in-person Early Vote Centers;
  4. Add more in-person Election Day polling places;
  5. Enhance Maryland's voter education outreach;
  6. Ensure the election operations timeline is available to the public;
  7. Eliminate the vendor error that delayed ballots;
  8. Provide precinct-level results in the General Election;
  9. Tighten the policies and procedures around reporting election results; and
  10. Host multiple webinars with organizations working to get out the vote so procedures are clearly communicated.

What happened a few weeks ago cannot be allowed to happen again and we will do everything we can to ensure greater access to voting despite the challenges of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Restoring trust in Maryland's election process is of paramount importance.
As Maryland continues its reopening process, we have an eye towards what that means for childcare facilities and schools in the fall as parents go back to work. The Maryland State Department of Education recently released their Recovery Plan for Education that details guidance to local school systems to, "plan for and address the eventual reopening of schools, with an understanding that the health, safety, and wellness of students, families, educators, and staff."

While I am glad to see the Department issue more in-depth recommendations to school districts, I am deeply concerned that it does not go far enough to ensure students who have been most significantly impacted by building closures for the last few months are able to catch up. Planning for all eventualities this fall also means creating a robust system to bridge the digital divide and track student attainment using meaningful data. Equity must be a fundamental component of the plan value statements are insufficient - a real plan must be put on paper.

The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee will be holding a briefing with the Maryland State Department of Education on the Recovery Plan next Tuesday, June 30, from 10am-12pm that will be live-streamed from the MGA's YouTube page . I hope you will also follow along for what will be an informative hearing.
Baltimore's Reopening
As Baltimore continues its phased reopening plan, there have been numerous questions about best practices for different industries to maintain the safety of employees and patrons. To that end, Baltimore City is encouraging the following of both general guidance , as well as more specialized best practices for different sectors. More information by sector can be found below:

Businesses should also be aware of their role in the City and State’s contact tracing efforts. Additional information can be found at this  link . Additional resources for businesses, including signage templates, can be found here .
Happening in District 46
I'm always a proud Baltimore City resident, but this week brought some extra joy as community members turned Linwood Avenue by Patterson Park into a mural affirming that Black Lives Matter. I can't say it any better than my D46 colleague, Delegate Robbyn Lewis, who told The Baltimore Sun , " It wasn’t done with huge fanfare, and a ‘Look at me, aren’t we cool and progressive?' kind of approach. It was organized by the community and carried out in a beautiful way. It was unveiled as we opened our eyes and started a new week wondering what horrors are going to buffet us and knock us down this week. Instead we got to open our eyes and see something that was goodness and hope."
Testing capacity and deployment continues to be our best chance of catching infections before they spread. The 21224 zip code continues to be a COVID-19 hot spot in comparison to the rest of the State and the 46th District Delegation is working with partners to increase testing, especially in Southeast Baltimore. Johns Hopkins Health System recently started a "Community Testing" initiative in conjunction with Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, the Esparanza Center, and Casa de Maryland to provide free testing three days a week. Additionally, the Maryland Department of Health has used the Baltimore Convention Center as a walk-up testing site on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8am-2pm. It is my sincere hope that they continue that effort.
I am encouraged to see outdoor dining in Fells Point continue to gain steam and expand. Fells Point Main Street has led the charge and it's amazing to see the "model" that has been built outside of Slainte and Kooper's Tavern expand along Thames Street to so many other local restaurants. I had the pleasure of checking out the area with Lea and Delegates Lewis and Lierman last night. I hope to see that al fresco dining experience replicated with all of the 22 restaurants in Fells Point that have indicated they are interested in participating in expanding outdoor dining.
The highlight of every year since I became the State Senator for the 46th District is organizing my annual Senator Scholarship. While the process was somewhat different this year due to COVID-19, we still received numerous applications from some incredible young people pursuing post-secondary degrees and trade certifications at Maryland institutions. I cannot thank this year's Scholarship Review Committee members who gave up their time to look over applications and help award nearly $40,000 in educational aid to dozens of students attaining their educational dreams.
More Highlights
Because Baltimore City is a direct certification school district, all City Schools families will receive a debit card with $330 in Pandemic Food Benefits per child to help them get through the summer months. While the card is not transferable, I would encourage anyone who is able to consider donating that amount to food-insecure families through the Fund for Educational Excellence, or a similar organization. You can do so by going to www.ffee.org/donate .

In case you missed my latest Facebook Live chat, I was joined by Tony Foreman, CEO of the Foreman Wolf Restaurant group last week. It was a fascinating conversation where we discussed Foreman Wolf's approach to reopening, their philosophy behind giving back to their employees and the broader community, as well as some of Tony's best wine recommendations for those of us stuck at home. You can check out the conversation here.

I was proud to join with Speaker Adrienne Jones in voting to remove the Civil War plaque in the State House that honored both Union and Confederate soldiers. The language was not representative of Marylands values, as detailed by The Baltimore Sun.

I visited Sacred Heart of Jesus Church last week as they conducted free COVID-19 testing for the Highlandtown community. As you can read in the Baltimore Brew , the amount of tests available was insufficient for the need in that community, which is why the entire 46th District Delegation has worked with all available partners to increase availability.

The Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup's meeting two weeks ago focused on the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on communities of color. It is vital that health and economic disparities be a focal point of the conversation and I was glad to see Maryland Matters cover that meeting.

After months of advocacy to the Maryland Department of Labor, we are finally starting to see small signs of progress in the processing of constituent issues around Unemployment Insurance. While the problems are far from being resolved, it is a step in the right direction as you can read about through the Associated Press .
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.