February 6, 2023
Black History Month presents a powerful opportunity for us to recognize and honor the profound contributions and sacrifices of Black Marylanders throughout our long history. I encourage everyone to visit Annapolis this month to view a special exhibit in the State House titled: “In Freedom’s Name: The History of Maryland’s Black Military.” This exhibit highlights little-known stories of Black Marylanders and their historic achievements in the armed forces. That tradition of service lives on through the work of current State Senators. Join me in thanking Senators Brooks, Ellis, Jackson, Watson, and Smith for their service and sacrifice to our State and nation. 

Black History Month is also an important moment for Maryland students to explore the history, experiences, and challenges that Black communities face in our State and across the country. Unfortunately, efforts to provide students in our country with a holistic education regarding our nation’s earliest days and the experience of minority communities have come under attack. Yet, here in Maryland, we value the diversity of our State’s population, as well as the lived and historical experiences of those in our communities. Black History Month reminds us of that responsibility as we uplift voices that have historically been marginalized in our classrooms and textbooks.
9-8-8 Hotline Funding First Bill to Pass Senate
I am proud to announce that the first bill passed by the Senate this year, Senate Bill 3, mandates funding for a behavioral health crisis hotline accessible to all Marylanders. The bill requires the Governor to allocate $12 million in the Fiscal Year 2025 State budget for the “9-8-8” hotline established by legislation passed through the Maryland General Assembly in 2022. Senate Bill 3 was a bipartisan effort sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Augustine and passed the Senate unanimously on Monday night. It now moves to the House of Delegates for further consideration. 

The COVID-19 pandemic deeply affected the mental and behavioral health of many Marylanders. One of the legislature’s top priorities this year is to identify ways to expand access to key services and provide essential support to those in need. We must work to increase affordable access to services, and continue to educate and destigmatize the importance of reaching out for help in times of need.
FARM Data Leads to Education Funding Increase
For the first time, Maryland is using Medicaid data to supplement Free and Reduced Price Meal (FARM) forms to more accurately count child poverty in our State. As a result, the number of Maryland students eligible for the FARM program drastically increased, with over 50% of K-12 students qualifying. Using the new eligibility numbers, the education funding formula passed in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future adds another $390 million to State funding going towards our public schools

This drastic increase in the number of students who qualify for the FARM program requires further evaluation. Medicaid eligibility has continued over the course of the pandemic without the need for individuals who became eligible to recertify. The Maryland General Assembly will need to be intentional about anticipating the potential decrease in FARM eligible students when that recertification process begins in May as the federal emergency declaration regarding the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end.

No matter what, our commitment to the Blueprint remains steadfast. Investing in our students and expanding the community school model throughout our State will lead to better educational outcomes. Our economy relies on a 21st century economy ready workforce and the Blueprint puts Maryland back on that path to prosperity.
Gun Safety After Bruen
As the increasing number of mass shootings in Maryland and throughout the United States demonstrates, addressing senseless gun violence is one of the most urgent issues we face. Despite the immediate need to tackle increasing gun violence, the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in N.Y. Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen moves our nation and our State in the wrong direction. At its core, the Bruen decision makes it harder for states to set guardrails around concealed carry permits, thereby enabling more guns to enter our public spaces including grocery stores, places of worship, childcare facilities, nursing homes, and entertainment venues.  

Before the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, the Maryland State Police’s Handgun Permit Unit approved approximately 13,000 wear and carry handgun permits a year. Since the Bruen decision, the Handgun Permit Unit has approved over 80,000 handgun permits. Data from research by Johns Hopkins University continues to show that increasing the number of guns in our communities increases incidents of violent crime, robberies, and theft of firearms.

That’s why the Senate is prioritizing the passage of Senate Bill 1 this Session to limit an individual from carrying a gun in a place of public accommodation, including courthouses, schools, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and other public establishments. These measures can ensure that guns do not continue to proliferate in public places where all Marylanders have a right to feel safe. The Maryland General Assembly and Governor Moore are committed to passing proven, effective strategies to make our State safer from gun violence.
New Regional Task Force on Water System
Safe and affordable access to drinking water is a human right. Unfortunately, Baltimore’s system for water delivery and its treatment plants have faced staffing shortages and neglect in recent years. The pandemic compounded those problems, leading to otherwise avoidable public health crises over the last few years. 

That’s why I’m grateful for the regional collaboration that took place leading up to the 2023 Legislative Session to take a first step towards finding solutions to these problems. Last week, Baltimore City and County leaders joined forces to propose legislation that will create a Task Force on Regional Water and Wastewater. A comprehensive and thoughtful approval to governing and maintaining this utility is an essential function and should be accomplished regionally with the jurisdictions the system serves.
Cannabis Legislation Introduced
Legislation that establishes Maryland’s new legal, adult-use cannabis industry was introduced on Friday. The legal cannabis program in the bill will help to curb illicit sales, address equity in licensing, taxation, and regulation, and meet the July 1, 2023, program implementation goal.

I am grateful for the work of lawmakers in both chambers who convened over the interim to create this comprehensive and intentional framework that moves us closer to a more equitable system for the adult-use cannabis market in Maryland. 

This newly regulated market will help bolster community safety and ensure the health of Marylanders who use legal cannabis by providing the highest standards of quality for legal sales in our State. I am hopeful our approach will become a national model for creating economic opportunity with communities that stand the most to gain. I am immensely grateful for Chair Feldman and Senator Hayes for leading this effort in the Senate, and to Chair Griffith for the work she and the committee will do in the weeks ahead.
More News
It was a pleasure to watch Governor Moore deliver his first State of the State address last week, highlighting his commitment to enhancing the State’s workforce and providing Marylander's opportunities to engage in public service. As a former Americorps member and educator, I know the power of service firsthand. That’s why I am thrilled to see Governor Moore prioritize service by expanding on my Maryland Corps initiative through his SERVE Act. We must make Maryland a leader in public service and civic engagement.

Members of the General Assembly have submitted a record-high number of bill requests this Session on issues that will impact the lives of Marylanders. The 2023 Legislative Session is just warming up. I am grateful to our talented Department of Legislative Services for efforts to prepare legislation for introduction and am confident that the legislature's work this year will further efforts to make our State the best place to live and work.

Last week, Baltimore stopped accepting applications for rental assistance from people facing eviction. The announcement comes as the City expects to exhaust its share of the $46 billion in federal emergency rental assistance funds by mid-March. 

Good Harvest Community Kitchen combats food insecurity by providing nutritious meals to underserved Baltimoreans. The non-profit is currently enrolling students in a 12-week food service training program. Participants will graduate with two food service certifications, hands-on experience, job placement assistance, free transportation from two pick-up centers in Baltimore City, and a weekly stipend.
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.