October 2, 2020
We are already nearly a month into the school year and Marylanders are still looking for clarity from the Maryland State Board of Education (MSDE) on how, when, or if schools will reopen safely this year. Announcements, like recent news that fall sports can recommence on October 7 with no guidance on safety protocols or testing requirements, unfortunately, only further the confusion among parents, students, and educators. Let me be clear: We must do whatever it takes to get kids back into in-person learning environments as soon as possible. To do that safely we need clear guidance and assurances from MSDE that all schools have the information, materials, and health protocols necessary to ensure the lowest risk of transmission within those learning environments.
This current scattershot approach to the State’s education system leads to confusion and chaos and pits parents against teachers, with students caught in the middle. Uncertainty on what metrics should be used to guide in-person learning forced Baltimore County’s school board to rescind a timeline to reopen after teachers demanded more safety measures be put into place to protect staff and students. Although we all agree that there is no substitute for in-person instruction, we must prioritize the safety of our students, staff, and teachers. 
In addition to health disparities, the pandemic continues to reveal the inequities in our education system. It is more critical than ever that we pass and implement the tenets of The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to address the widening opportunity gaps between low-income and affluent jurisdictions, as well as Marylanders all across the State.
Police Reform Interim Bill Hearings
It's not often that the Maryland Senate holds bill hearings when not in Legislative Session, but police reform and the fight for racial justice are too important to wait. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held three days of hearings last week to take a first look at 15 bills. The proposals ranged from use-of-force policies to ensuring public transparency after misconduct takes place.
A holistic conversation around public safety must include necessary reforms to Maryland's police departments that build trust between law enforcement officers and the residents they protect. These proposed bills, while far from finalized, represent meaningful progress towards transparency, accountability, and building relationships between police and communities of color across our State.
I’d like to thank Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Will Smith, Senators Jill Carter and Charles Sydnor, and all of the committee members for their diligent work on these critical measures. I look forward to the ongoing work on police reform issues during the coming months.
McGrath Subpoena Issued
Any and all allegations of governmental corruption and misuse of power in Maryland must be vigorously investigated to ensure that our residents trust the institutions that serve them. Last week, a bi-partisan committee issued a subpoena to require Roy McGrath, former chief of staff to Governor Hogan, to testify about a $233,000 pay-out and other funds he received when he left the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) to join the Governor’s staff.
The Governor has since proposed reforms to MES, and we will certainly move forward on bi-partisan reform efforts. But to reform effectively, we must have a deep understanding of what went wrong and why. Without accurately defining the problem, we will never find the right solutions. The legislature has a duty to all Marylanders to investigate what happened so that substantive changes can be made. Reform for reform’s sake is just window dressing – we need to get to the root of the problem and fix it.
Nursing Home Concerns
Although a vaccine for COVID-19 may be many months off, Maryland is already creating a plan for its distribution. I applaud Governor Hogan’s announcement that nursing home residents, who account for nearly 60 percent of all COVID deaths, will be the State’s first recipients of the vaccine. Also included in the first round will be staff and residents of assisted living facilities, senior day care attendees, front-line workers, and educators.
Ensuring the safety of those in nursing homes continues to be one of our highest priorities during this pandemic, and that is why I was distressed to learn that State health surveyors who go to multiple facilities for inspections are not required to be tested for COVID-19. The facilities’ staff are required to be tested weekly and the inspectors should be held to the same standards. Yesterday’s announcement that indoor nursing home visits may resume adds an additional risk level to our nursing home population. We must closely monitor all COVID-19 metrics in nursing homes and require testing of all staff and inspectors to prevent outbreaks from occurring.
An Insufficient BEACON 2.0
Despite assurances from Maryland’s Department of Labor, the launch of BEACON 2.0 last week left too many of those applying for unemployment benefits frustrated and angry. The new system was heralded as a one-stop portal that integrates all benefits, appeals, and tax and re-employments functions in one space. Users have reported a myriad of glitches in the system and say they have no way to reach someone by phone or email. Helping Marylanders access their benefits remains one of my top priorities. We will continue to work with the Department to ensure the system is responsive and user-friendly going forward.
Mail-In Ballots Have Arrived!
If you requested a ballot for the November election, you should see it in your email inbox or physical mailbox this week. You can submit your ballot in several ways: drop it off at one of the City’s drop box locations (list here), bring your ballot to an early voting site (locations here), or drop it in a mail box near you. The important thing is to vote, vote, vote!
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The country is indebted to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her passionate pursuit of justice for men and women alike, but particularly on behalf of the girls and women who will forever benefit from her demand for equal justice for all. The best way to honor her legacy is to let your voice be heard by voting this November. 
Thousands of COVID-19 tests that Governor Hogan purchased for $9 million from South Korea this spring are being shelved by the University of Maryland Lab in Baltimore. The tests were found to be unreliable, despite an additional $2.5 million spent in upgrades, and were pulled after multiple false positives were discovered in nursing homes across the State.
I am thrilled to see that legions of young Marylanders are volunteering to become election poll workers across the State, filling a critical need at voting sites for November’s presidential election. Polls are usually staffed by older residents; however, many have had to drop out due to their vulnerability to COVID-19.
The Hogan Administration backed down from its proposal to cut 20 percent of core bus services in Baltimore, a move that would have disproportionately affected City residents who rely on public transportation for work, health care, and other essential needs. I am happy that residents won’t have to find other costly options to go to work or check in on loved ones.
Maryland courts will resume jury trials on October 5 under new guidelines that prioritize safety for employees, defendants, and juries. Courts have been frozen since March, leaving many defendants languishing in jail or on home detention. The courts are requiring masks, temperature checks, reduced touchpoints, and social distancing to safeguard the process.
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.