April 5, 2021
Annapolis is once again a national model for multiple branches of government coming together to solve big problems. Last Wednesday, I joined Speaker Adrienne Jones and Governor Larry Hogan to announce how Maryland will spend the $3.9 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

There’s a lot to be proud of in the package, but the nearly $300 million to bridge Maryland’s digital divide is truly transformational. This critical investment will connect an estimated 567,000 Marylanders to the Internet by investing $146 million in broadband infrastructure, providing a monthly subsidy to pay for Internet service, and ensuring all Marylanders who need it have access to devices.

Broadband access is vital to a 21st century economy and our children’s educational attainment. This historic investment in expanding Maryland’s network will keep Maryland ensure equitable access to the internet while keeping Maryland on a path to prosperity as we rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Key Priorities Passing Both Chambers
Saturday marked a key deadline in the 2021 Legislative Session: the Maryland General Assembly will have the ability to override any of the Governor’s vetoes on bills presented to him by then before we adjourn Sine Die on April 12th. We have been working around the clock (literally until 1:00am on Wednesday night) to advance some of our key priorities through both chambers before then. Here are a few worth highlighting:

  • The Blueprint 2.0 legislation to address COVID-19 learning loss, support students’ socio-emotional health, provide funding for educational technology, and ensure the responsible use of federal funds has made it to the Governor.

  • The Walter Lomax Act, after many years of advocacy, is now in front of the Governor and establishes a consistent system for compensating exonerees who were wrongly convicted and incarcerated.

Adult High School Funding and State Board of Education Reform in the House
I don’t get to sponsor much legislation as Senate President, but had a chance to present two of my bills to their respective House of Delegates committees last week. On Tuesday, I joined the House Appropriations committee to present Senate Bill 630. This bill will provide necessary funding to approved schools under the Adult High School Pilot Program after a 2020 report noted that funding gaps have made it difficult for these programs to get off the ground. Adult high schools have the potential to provide high-quality secondary education and access to career training to the estimated 500,000 Maryland adults without a high school diploma.

I also had a chance to present Senate Bill 785 before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. This measure will strengthen the State Board of Education by specifying qualifications for board members so that as a whole, the Board will have expertise in antiracism and equity frameworks, students with disabilities, multilingual instruction, programs that enhance socioeconomic and demographic diversity, and implementing innovative education reform. As Maryland embarks on implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, these reforms offer an opportunity to purposefully structure the Board to be prepared for this process. 

I appreciate the consideration of Senate Bills 630 and 785 by the House Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees, respectively, and hope the House will move these measures with the urgency that these issues demand.
Vaccine Pre-Registration Opens for All 16+
Last week, the Governor announced that every Marylander 16 and older is now eligible to pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is open online and by calling 855-MD-GOVAX. Individuals who are currently eligible under Phase 1 and Phase 2 will still continue to be prioritized for appointments. 

Our State administers more and more vaccines every week, especially as shipments in doses from the federal government are increasing. We are now averaging over 61,000 doses administered every day and I am grateful for the medical professionals at our mass vaccination sites, primary care offices, and community clinics that are working tirelessly to get shots in arms. It continues to be heartening to see the State adopting the centralized distribution model advocated by the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup as additional State and FEMA mass vaccination sites come online.

At the same time, public health officials are cautioning Marylanders that positive cases and hospitalizations are increasing across Maryland. This week, the statewide testing positivity rate rose above 5%, a crucial metric in determining statewide guidelines and restrictions. Even with the beautiful spring weather, each individual must do their part and continue mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting in-person indoor gatherings.
More News
After two years of extensive renovations, Lawyers Mall has reopened and is once again our State's Capita's First Amendment gathering space. I had the opportunity to join Governor Hogan, Speaker Jones, and Department of General Services Secretary Churchill this afternoon for a rededication ceremony.

Friday was opening day for the Orioles, as they play against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Exceeding expectations, the Orioles swept the series by winning all three games and are currently undefeated. Let’s go O’s!

Last Wednesday, President Biden announced his historic $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which will invest in our country’s infrastructure and create millions of union-backed jobs. The legislation would inject huge amounts of funding in our nation’s mass transit systems, broadband network, the construction of new public schools, care for seniors and people with disabilities, and clean energy research and development.

President Biden is set to nominate two women, Deborah Boardman and Lydia Griggsby, to serve as U.S. District Court judges for Maryland. Ms. Griggsby, a Baltimore native, would be the first woman of color to serve as a judge on the district court in Maryland.

The Maryland Department of Labor has extended the moratorium on new residential foreclosures through May 3. Homeowners can call the Maryland HOPE hotline at 1-877-462-7555 for a referral to a nonprofit housing advocate, and visit the Department’s website for additional information. 

A Baltimore Sun piece highlighted several Baltimore-based small businesses owned by women of color, who are innovating despite the challenges of the pandemic. We are still far from recovering economically from COVID-19 and I encourage all of us to keep “shopping local” to support our City’s entrepreneurs. 
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.