February 21, 2022
For the first time in over two years, committees in the Senate of Maryland held in-person hearings. I am happy to report last week went smoothly. Dozens of people testified in person and hundreds submitted written testimony that will permanently exist in the history of the bills – a critical part of democracy. The cooperation from visitors, senators, and witnesses have allowed opportunities for engagement and productive conversations about important issues of the day. The success and energy of in-person hearings last week will guide us on the path to health and recovery for a post-pandemic world. As we approach the half-way mark in session, I will continue to fight for safer communities and Maryland families.
Update on "The Block" Legislation
The legislative process is built on compromise and sometimes an imperfect tool is necessary to get all relevant parties around a shared table. The 46th District Delegation’s intent behind “The Block” legislation was always to ensure an equitable distribution of police resources across the Central District, not to put the businesses on “The Block” out of business. The concept agreement announced Friday with a representative majority of clubs on “The Block” includes:

  • The consistent use of cameras and sharing of footage;
  • A dedicated deployment of police at peak hours paid for by the businesses; and 
  • The incorporation of security plans approved by the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners in consultation with the Baltimore Police Department. 

I am confident that this path forward will result in a safer “Block,” surrounding community, and Central District. Through this cooperative agreement we have gathered important members of the community finding solutions together and creating a safer Baltimore. As the leader of the 46th District, it is my responsibility to listen to the residents and their urgent cries regarding violent crimes. With half of police resources allocated to a two-block radius, there was a delayed response to other neighborhoods. My priority is to ensure the safety of all of my constituents. 

I recognize that the implementation of the plan is not a holistic solution for public safety in Baltimore, but rather one piece toward the beginning of a stronger community.  
Cannabis Legalization
As we emerge from 2021, the time has come for our State to legalize cannabis, and thus prioritize equity for communities that were and continue to be disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. First and foremost, decriminalization of low-level offenses will disrupt the cycle of incarceration in Black and brown communities. Within those communities, any individual who identifies as a small business owner can apply as a social equity applicant, ensuring opportunities for start-up funds, grants, and no-interest loans. Community success will be a priority as we expand a legal and regulated cannabis market and displace illicit activity. 

I recognize that anything to do with legalization must have proper protections in place with the coordination of the State and local agencies. It is not only passing a bill with a framework so that voters know what they are voting on when it is on the ballot, but developing a plan to address very real and complex problems. Ultimately, I believe Maryland is ready to move forward with legalization. We have waited too long to decriminalize, expunge, and establish economic success for our communities. 
Ballot Curing Bill Passes Senate
Voting in the United States has always maintained a complex history and unfortunately, many states continue to encounter their own challenges. As a nation, we are proud of our democracy and the right to elect our leaders, but when we look at our past, we see centuries of selective disenfranchisement. Voting began as a privilege for white male property owners and even with the ratification of the 15th and 19th amendments, there were restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests to deter voters of color and those of a lower socioeconomic status. We cannot be proud of centuries that actively inhibited voting access, but during this 2022 Legislative Session, the Senate of Maryland is actively making progress so that every voice is heard. 

Last week, the Senate passed Senate Bill 163, which ensures that any individual who has failed to sign their ballot will be notified. The individual can then provide a signature via text message, email, online portal, mail or through an in-person visit to their local board of elections’ office. The electoral board will also begin processing votes eight days before early voting. This bill is an advancement to our voting rights. It is imperative to remember that in the 2020 election, 1500 ballots were not counted because these voters did not include their signatures. Regardless of your political party identification, your vote deserves to be acknowledged and counted.
More News
It was a pleasure to have the 46th District’s very own Dr. Sarah Merritt in Annapolis last week as our Doctor of the Day, and to formally recognize her on the Senate Floor. I’m grateful for her participation in the 2022 Session and the ongoing engagement of our constituents.

Last Wednesday, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard the ghost guns bill (Senate Bill 287), a monumental beginning to the elimination of untraceable firearms. Ghost guns have caused violent deaths in Maryland as it is easy to purchase online without any verification or background checks. With many parents and our children demanding measures against gun violence, I am eager to see this bill pass through the Senate.

I am pleased that on Wednesday, the Budget and Tax Committee unanimously voted to pass my Maryland Corps legislation, Senate Bill 228. The bill will now move to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee for a vote. This bill reimagines and funds the Maryland Corps Program, so that any person over 18+ can participate and find their path in life to serve others, as we are better together than apart. 

Baltimore City has launched a new need-based water discount program, Water4all, to help residents afford their water and sewage bills. This discount will help families lessen financial burdens and allow for continued access to water. You can apply for the program here.

The Department of Planning will begin accepting applications for the Planning Academy. This program will include workshops for community leadership around zoning and urban planning with the goals to improve community engagement. Applications are open until February 25 and can be found here.

In light of this past Valentine’s Day, please join me in celebrating our Baltimore small businesses and entrepreneurs who have taken substantial risks to open their own restaurants. Many of our restaurateurs are also couples who have become co-owners. Often, food, especially from our favorite Baltimore restaurants, becomes more than sustenance and rather a source of excitement. I encourage you to continue exploring Baltimore through the many restaurants the City has to offer.
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.