Dear Friends,

As we enter the last month of the 2021 Maryland General Assembly (MGA) Session, 2359 bills have been introduced and in the coming week we will work hard in each Chamber to “crossover” bills to the opposite chamber moving them toward final passage by the last day of Session, on April 12, 2021 (“Sine Die”). 
During our 90 day legislative session, an unforeseen upside of this turbulent pandemic is that our “virtual” or “remote” Session required the application of new technology to increase access to the proceedings in Annapolis. The MGA has expanded its broadcasting of proceedings for tele-working staff and the public to view and to participate in via Zoom and YouTube. So from the comfort of your home, please take time to watch daily floor proceedings under “live media” tab here. All floor proceedings and past committee hearings can also be accessed by date.
Below are a few highlights of my legislative priorities which include helping homeless students receive tuition waivers, supporting military families in addressing domestic or child abuse, and increased scrutiny for nursing home operators entering our state.  

Each week we are seeing improvements for vaccine administration, so it is my hope that more of you who are in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C have had success getting appointments. We have successfully advocated and received more dedicated vaccines for Prince Georgians at Six Flags and have also seen additional private vendors starting to increase local access. Please read more below.

I also encourage continued perseverance in employing good public health habits and ask those who are able to check-in with neighboring seniors to see if they need help or more information regarding vaccines. As we see the loosening of pandemic restrictions, stay safe and continue to wear masks when out supporting local businesses.
I hope these updates are helpful and encourage you to share with others who may not receive my newsletter. Please also follow me on Twitter and Facebook for up-to-date postings. 

Geraldine Valentino-Smith
Delegate, Maryland House of Delegates, District 23A
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COVID-19 Vaccine
Currently, 12.3% of Marylanders are fully vaccinated. The registration process has been confusing for so many, but as we progress each week we now have implementation of three mass vaccine sites: M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Convention Center and Six Flags Amusement Park, which are all operating with limited appointments. By the end of March, Maryland plans to have at least one mass vaccination site in each region of the state including Southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. Call 1-855-MDGOVAX (1-855-634-6829) for registering at a state vaccination site. You may also text MDReady to 898211 to receive appointment notifications for the state’s mass vaccination sites. To look up your eligibility click here and look up vaccination options by zip code here. Additionally you may pre-register with the County Health Department’s clinics here.
Prince George’s County Re-Opening Update
The Governor has lifted capacity limits on outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants and bars, retail businesses, religious facilities, fitness centers, casinos and personal service and indoor recreational establishments. However, each County is left to evaluate their local key data and metrics for infection and vaccine and adjust local capacity limits. Prince George’s County is not expanding capacity limits for businesses and other establishments as broad as the Governor announced, but due to a continued and significant decline in the County’s positivity rate and due to increasing vaccination rate capacity, guidelines are being updated and the new safety measures took effect Friday, March 12, 2021, at 5:00 PM. A full list of updated guidelines can be found here.
My Legislative Updates 
For the 2021 session, here are a few updates regarding my legislative priorities for the last few weeks of the 2021 Session. Please go to my legislative page to read details here.

  • The COVID-19 death rate in Maryland’s nursing homes during the pandemic has been nothing short of appalling. Statistics reveal that 45% of our state’s total COVID deaths were in nursing homes. I sponsored HB 674 Nursing Homes-Transfer of Ownership-Surveys which will increase oversight of nursing homes and will stem the tide of out of state Real Estate Investment (REITs) purchases, firms which have been buying up nursing homes and then setting up LLCs to perform the nursing care as a way to hide profits, while simultaneously cutting care and costs. 

  • HB 673, State Health Care Facilities- Employees- Alternative Workweeks, will expand the law to allow for this flexible scheduling for Registered Nurses (RNs) and ensure the ability for the state to be competitive in fulfilling staffing needs.  

  • HB 881, Mental Health Facilities- Sexual Abuse and Harassment-Reporting and Prevention, will further expand reporting requirements in our state’s mental health facilities regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors.    

  • HB 216, Higher Education-Tuition Exemption for Foster Care Recipients and Homeless Youth- Alterations and Reports, will offer tuition exemptions for foster and homeless youth in our state who despite overwhelming odds manage to qualify for college.

  •  Juvenile Justice: HB 169 would compel “informal adjustment” which increases the opportunities for juveniles to avoid an adjudication hearing and instead allows completion of a structured diversion program and HB 362, Juvenile Probation, would place parameters on extensive juvenile probation sentences.  

  • HB 675, Drunk and Drugged Driving—Prior Convictions- Conviction for the Drunk and Drugged Operation of a Vessel will make sure the subsequent penalties apply not only to subsequent driving offenses, but also to subsequent impaired boating.  

  • HB 646, Child Abuse and Neglect- Memorandum of Understanding with Military Family Advocacy Programs will ensure that local county departments of social services and military base family advocacy programs will share information regarding child and domestic abuse allegations in order to better support military families in crisis. 
Other MGA Bills Of Interest
The expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for the next three years allows claimants to get a larger refund and separate legislation extends eligibility to taxpayers using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs). This group of working poor taxpayers, which includes tax paying working immigrants, have been excluded from previous state and federal COVID relief. The EITC bill passed the General Assembly in February and automatically took effect on March 5. Please read the bill here.
HB670 – The Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 was based on the recommendations of the House Police Reform and Accountability Workgroup. The Speaker introduced this legislation to ensure some necessary reforms that will increase transparency and objectivity in internal review processes. The Senate passed versions of reform and now both chambers will negotiate regarding reform on how police officers will be trained, investigated and disciplined. Please go to this link and fast forward to the 48:04 mark on the video to view the floor proceedings for HB670.
Unemployment Insurance Reform Package The pandemic revealed that Maryland’s Unemployment Insurance system was unprepared for a statewide emergency. A package of bills passed on Thursday, March 11 will implement immediate and structural fixes. The five House bills in the package include: HB907 Unemployment Insurance - Study on System Reforms; HB908 Unemployment Insurance - Employer Contributions; HB1138 Unemployment Insurance - Maryland Department of Labor – Accountability and Oversight; HB1139 Unemployment Insurance - Weekly Benefit Amount – Income Disregard; and HB1143 Unemployment Insurance - Work Sharing (Work Share Expansion Act of 2021).
By Authority of Friends For Geraldine Valentino-Smith, Elizabeth Ryan, Treasurer