October 16, 2020
As we approach the final two months of 2020, it’s clear that the stakes have never been higher. We are in the midst of a pivotal election with greater interest in voting than almost any other time in our country’s history. At the same time, COVID-19 is resurging around the United States and Maryland is beginning to see signs of an uptick, though it hasn’t been nearly as marked as in other areas.

School districts around the State, including in Baltimore City, are planning to bring limited groups of students back into the classroom based on need so long as conditions remain safe. This week, however, we’ve seen school districts around the country, roll back their reopening plans as COVID-19 cases rise. Denver is just one example of a district that's had to change its reopening plan. To successfully get our highest need students back to in-person instruction, it will take a concerted effort from all of us to wear masks, social distance, wash our hands, and follow all public health guidance to keep infection rates manageable heading into this fall and winter.
2020 General Election is Underway
The State Board of Elections has done herculean work to get Maryland ready for the 2020 General Election, mailing over 1.5 million ballots to voters since September 24th. Residents have until October 20th to submit an application form or request a ballot online. If you have already voted by mail, you can check the status of your ballot on the Board of Elections website here.
Over a million mail-in ballots are expected to be cast in Maryland. Vote counting is already underway in jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County to ensure more accurate results on election night.
The most important thing you can do to make your vote count is to make a voting plan! If you have requested a ballot, you can return it by mail or place it in any drop-box near you (Baltimore City Drop Box Locations). If you are voting in person, consider an Early Vote location (Baltimore City Early Voting Centers), open October 26th through November 2nd from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

Although the advance voter registration deadline passed this week, Maryland has same day voter registration during Early Vote days and Election Day. Even if you, or someone you know still has not registered, but is eligible to vote, you can cast a provisional ballot in-person and make your voice heard.
For any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out, or go to the Baltimore City Board of Election’s website here.
Guide to Ballot Question in Maryland and the City
There are a number of important questions on the ballot this year that affect Maryland and Baltimore City. Although they can be complicated to read and hard to understand, these initiatives have a real impact on the quality of life in our State and City. Please take a few minutes to read these brief summaries of the ballot questions provided by The Baltimore Sun before you cast your vote:

I was the Senate sponsor of Question 1 as Vice Chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Fundamentally, Question 1 is about giving Maryland residents greater input in the State budget as the General Assembly gets parity with almost every other state legislature across the country. Maryland is the only state where the legislature cannot increase funding for programs if it decreases funding in other areas.
Protecting and Prioritizing Healthcare Access
Many of you may be concerned about the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the law faces challenges in the Supreme Court and President Trump works to deliver on his vow to end coverage for over 400,000 people in Maryland alone. The issue was at the forefront of the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett this week, a judge who has been critical of the legislation and is expected to vote to overturn key provisions of the law.

Thankfully, Marylanders will be protected regardless of how the Court votes on the ACA. Last Session, the General Assembly passed a bill to guarantee critical aspects of the law, including prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and requiring companies to cover children on their parents’ policies until the age of 26.

Meanwhile, the cost of health insurance continues to decline in the State, which shows that providing access to health insurance is not only the right thing to do, but ultimately saves money as well.
School Updates in Baltimore and Maryland
School districts across Maryland are contemplating reopening their doors as it becomes apparent that the most challenged students are not being served by online learning. As an educator, I know that children learn best in-person, and I am pleased that we are taking steps to bring students back in a thoughtful, measured manner.
At the beginning of November, Baltimore City will welcome back certain students deemed at high risk of falling behind, including those in pre-k, kindergarten, and those in special education courses. Also on the list are students who are suffering homelessness, have missed more than 20 percent of their online lessons, and children in transition grades. The current plan is entirely subject to public health conditions in Baltimore City and will be determined by the trajectory of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
This pandemic has revealed stark inequalities in our education system, with access to high-speed internet high on that list. Remote learning is simply impossible without it. In the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session, the General Assembly will work to address that digital divide, which affects low-income students in urban areas, as well as rural communities that are underserved.
Free Legal Aid for Eviction Prevention
I am grateful to Attorney General Frosh and Governor Hogan for the creation of an $11.7 million legal defense fund to help Marylanders fight evictions caused by the pandemic. Studies show that families who have the benefit of counsel to challenge evictions or foreclosures are much more likely to stay in their homes.
This critical safety net was a key proposal of a bipartisan Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Workgroup on housing insecurity led by Senator Hettleman this summer. The group proposed 12 recommendations aimed at protecting tenants and homeowners from the financial hardships caused by COVID-19, including the expansion of mediation services and efforts to protect tenants from the negative impact eviction orders have on their credit rating.
The workgroup raised concern over evidence that race plays a major role in who is evicted or foreclosed upon, citing a study that found that evictions of Black residents are three times the number of white evictions in the City.
Maryland Not Out of the Woods on COVID-19
I am relieved that Maryland is faring better than many states this fall, but the number of positive COVID-19 cases are ticking upwards. This week, we saw the largest number of citizens hospitalized in more than a month and the number of deaths related to the virus has reached almost 4,000.
Experts are warning that late fall and winter will be extremely challenging, and we must not let our guard down as the weather moves us indoors and the flu-season puts more strain on hospitals and front-line workers. Wear your mask, avoid large social gatherings, and limit travel as much as possible so that we can protect the most vulnerable in our State.
New Republican Leadership in the MD Senate
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with newly-elected Republican Minority Leader Simonaire and Minority Whip Hough to congratulate them and welcome them to leadership. I have worked closely with both Senators over the years and look forward to finding areas of common ground so we can collaboratively build a stronger Maryland in the challenging times ahead.
I want to thank Senators J.B. Jennings and Steve Hershey for their six-years of leadership of the Senate Republican Caucus and their willingness to reach across the aisle to address the critical issues facing Marylanders. They were able to disagree without being disagreeable, and, at a time when partisanship seems extreme, were always focused on our mutual goal of making Maryland a better place to live. 
I-895 Harbor Tunnel Closures for Oct. 16 - 23
The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) announced that two-way traffic will be discontinued at the I-895 Harbor Tunnel at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17. On Monday, Oct. 19, at 4:30 a.m. two-way traffic will resume with one lane in each direction in the southbound tube through at least Friday, Oct. 23. The tube closures are for ongoing work on approach walls and tile & pump replacement.  

This is a tentative schedule that is subject to change at any time due to weather, traffic conditions, emergency incidents, or priority closures.

MDTA will issue additional traffic advisories as work progresses and schedules are finalized. 
More News
A senior employee at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation was paid over $56,000 for six-months of unapproved leave, violating State leave regulations. This misuse of taxpayer dollars by a top State official follows revelations of financial malfeasance by Governor Hogan’s chief of staff and must result in stronger oversight of state agencies and their employment practices.

Governor Hogan’s two main transportation projects, the Purple Line and a plan to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway, I270 and the American Legion Bridge, are facing major stumbling blocks this year. After the construction contractor for the Purple Line quit mid-project over $800 million in cost overruns, questions abound over whether the toll-lane projects will suffer the same fate.

A new Goucher College poll reveals that a majority of Marylanders “strongly” support making police disciplinary actions more transparent to the public and favor independent investigations of police misconduct—both key features of a slate of bills put forth by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee this fall.
The same Goucher poll found that Marylanders are split on whether they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, with 48 percent saying they would get a free, FDA-approved vaccine today. Forty-nine percent said they would not.
I was proud to celebrate October 12th as Indigenous People’s Day---a day to celebrate the resilience and immense contributions of Native Americans. I applaud the Baltimore City Council’s decision to change the name of the Columbus Day holiday to accurately depict our nation’s history while celebrating its diversity.
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.