March 19, 2021
On Wednesday morning, we woke up to the horrifying news that a man shot and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian-American and seven of whom were women in Atlanta. My deepest condolences and prayers go out to the families of the victims. This act of violence and hatred is only the latest of a disturbing trend with nearly 3,800 nationwide reports of hate incidents targeting Asian-Americans that have been reported since last March. 

It is incumbent upon all of us to stand up and say that discrimination and violence are unacceptable. It is incumbent upon all of us to condemn the misinformation and anti-Asian rhetoric that has been proliferated during the pandemic. It is incumbent upon all of us to build a better society that uplifts and values our Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) friends and neighbors. 

As Senator Susan Lee stated during Wednesday’s Senate floor session, the General Assembly has been working tirelessly this Session on bills that promote greater justice and address the issues of systemic racism. This week’s tragedy reminds me, once again, that this work is urgent and requires each of our deep commitments. 

The richness that the AAPI community brings to our City, State, and country is invaluable. Just one example was highlighted in a moving piece in The Baltimore Sun detailing the six-hour trip to Vermont that the owners and co-founders of Ekiben, a beloved Asian-fusion restaurant in Fells Point, took to cook a favorite meal for a loyal customer dying of lung cancer.
Pre-Registration Site Launched and Vaccine Phases Announced
Two major announcements in Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign came this week: 

First, the State has launched a pre-registration site for its mass vaccination sites. Eligible Marylanders can also pre-register for appointments by calling the vaccination support center at 1-855-MD-GOVAX (1-855-634-6829). Appointments will not be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis, but they will be distributed equitably based on eligibility and supply. This move to centralize distribution is a good start that the Senate Vaccine Oversight Group has advocated for over the past two months. 

  • Phase 2A: Tuesday, March 23
  • Marylanders 60 and older
  • Phase 2B: Tuesday, March 30
  • Marylanders 16 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • Phase 2C: Tuesday, April 13
  • Marylanders 55 and older, or who are essential workers in critical industries including construction, food services, utilities, transportation, financial services, and IT
  • Phase 3: Tuesday, April 27
  • All Marylanders 16 and older 

This expansion is due to an expected significant increase in Maryland’s vaccine supply after March 29. The Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup will continue to monitor these efforts to ensure that our State’s administration capacity is able to keep up with the increased supply soon-to-come. It is also worth noting that Maryland experienced a slight uptick this week in COVID-19 positivity rate and the number of people hospitalized, key indicators as to the spread of the virus in Maryland. I urge us all to keep doing our part with mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting gatherings as more transmissible variants become the primary strains circulating in our communities.
Vaccine Equity Improves with Work Still to Do
We know that more needs to be done to expand access to vaccines, especially as the new pre-registration site does not cover pharmacies, local health departments, and other community vaccine providers. This week, the Governor announced that each of the mass vaccination sites will set aside 2,100 “priority appointments per week” for residents of the jurisdictions where the clinics are located. This is a good step forward, and I hope that more will continue to be done to prioritize our most vulnerable Marylanders. 

It is also heartening to see community-based sites pop up, such as those run out of the Masonic Temple on Eutaw Place and the Union Baptist Church in West Baltimore last weekend that vaccinated 2,200 people. Many of those Baltimoreans had difficulty getting vaccinated otherwise and the success of community-based clinics demonstrates that demand for vaccines is present in our under-vaccinated communities. As we have said from the start, it is an issue of access and not hesitancy.
Historic HBCU Bill Passes Both Chambers
On Wednesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1/House Bill 1 to invest an historic $577 million in Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), pending settlement. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, demonstrating our bipartisan commitment to addressing the deep-rooted inequities in our State’s higher education system. I am thankful for the tireless work of Senator Charles Sydnor, the Senate bill’s sponsor, and the entire Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. 

Maryland’s four HBCUs - Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore - are vital parts of our State’s higher education landscape that provide students with top-notch education, supportive community, and rich extracurricular and work opportunities. Senate Bill 1/House Bill 1 will address an ongoing 16 year lawsuit regarding the historic underfunding of our HBCUs and move us towards a more equitable higher education system. The bills now head to the Governor’s desk.
Emergency Bill to Address COVID-19 Learning Loss
As many of you know, last month, the General Assembly overrode the Governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a bill providing landmark education reforms to equitably serve all of Maryland’s students. At the same time, we know that the pandemic has further deepened existing challenges and disparities in our education system while creating new ones. Our teachers have gone to herculean efforts to support their students through virtual instruction, but now must grapple with addressing learning loss and returning to in-person learning. 

Expanding Voting Options in Maryland
Last November’s election was notable for many reasons, including the fact that nearly half of Maryland’s voters made their voices heard with mail-in ballots that they returned either via mail or at a ballot drop box. Continuing to provide ways for voting to be accessible and secure is a crucial part of ensuring that everyone has a voice in the democratic process. 

This Session, the General Assembly is considering several measures that aim to strengthen voter access and participation. Today, the Senate approved Senate Bill 683 to create a permanent absentee ballot list for Marylanders who wish to continue voting by mail, expand ballot applications for all eligible Maryland voters, and set guardrails to ensure easy access to ballot drop boxes. At a time when so many other states are considering and passing legislation that would restrict voting rights, especially in communities of color, Maryland is doing everything we can to make voting easier.
More News
The MGA’s Crossover date is fast approaching on Monday, by which time bills should have passed their chamber of origin to have the best chance of passing both chambers. As you can see in previous sections and below, the Senate is moving urgently to get as many bills over to the House by Monday as possible. 

The package of Unemployment Insurance legislation to fix Maryland’s broken system just passed the Senate and moves to the House, where similar measures have already passed.

Maryland’s state song with its pro-Confederate lyrics is likely to finally be repealed this Session, ensuring that the symbols representing our State truly reflect our values. 

Mayor Brandon Scott gave his State of the City speech yesterday evening, focusing on rebuilding trust in the City government, addressing digital equity and gun violence, and determining how the American Rescue Plan funds that Baltimore is set to receive will be used. 

Baltimore City will loosen its COVID-19 restrictions starting next Friday, March 26 at 6 a.m. Indoor dining will be allowed to resume at 50% capacity, outdoor dining at 75% capacity, and houses of worship, stores and malls, fitness centers, and other establishments move to 50% capacity. The City will review health metrics every two weeks to make decisions about further reopening steps.

Mayor Scott is seeking public input to finalize Baltimore City’s comprehensive public safety and violence prevention plan. Feedback on the draft plan can be provided on the website of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement here. 

Baltimore City Public Schools welcomed back students in grades 3-5 and 9 to in-person learning in school buildings on Monday. The District will continue to perform COVID-19 tests on students and staff, and send home anyone with a positive test result for a period of quarantining.
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