February 27, 2023
It is hard to believe that the 2023 Legislative Session is just past the halfway mark. Over the last 45 days, the Senate has worked hard on issues large and small that will enhance the lives of Marylanders. We have already passed many impactful pieces of legislation to our partners in the House through bills like:
  • Senate Bill 202, reauthorizing the State’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board to set upper payment limits on prescription drugs; 
  • Senate Bill 282, creating a fund for training additional behavioral health providers; and 
  • Senate Bill 348, increasing State support for libraries throughout Maryland. 

The next six weeks will be intense as we move forward with transformational policies that will improve the lives of every Maryland resident. The nature of the first year of the term with the inauguration of a new Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney General has created a delayed timeframe in which the legislature will consider some of the most complex and controversial topics.

Despite the limited time in front of us, we will pass effective legislation to improve access to reproductive and behavioral healthcare, save lives through common-sense gun safety measures, spur investment in next-generation green energy like offshore wind, and create an equitable marketplace for adult-use recreational cannabis. At the same time, we must balance the State’s operating and capital budgets to invest in Marylanders’ priorities and values while buttressing against any future economic downturns.
Service Year Opportunities Gain Steam
I have long believed that creating opportunities for Marylanders to engage in service is one of the most consequential tools we have to bridge divides and repair our civic fabric. Since 2016, I have worked to create Maryland Corps, a State program to help expand public service placements in every corner of the State. I was incredibly proud of the passage of Senate Bill 228 last Session to put the resources in place to get that initiative off the ground.

For the first time since launching that effort, we have a Governor who shares the same vision and commitment to finding ways for Marylanders to serve together. Last week, Governor Moore came to the Senate Committee on Education, Energy, and the Environment (EEE) to present his Serving Every Region Vocational Exploration (SERVE) Act. That legislation would create an additional pathway to service for recent high school graduates as they explore future career, vocational, and educational opportunities.

That legislation follows the creation of a new Maryland Department of Service and Civic Innovation through an executive order signed on Governor Moore’s first full day in office. I look forward to working with the Governor and members of the Maryland General Assembly in the coming weeks to make that department, its eventual Secretary, and all service participants in Maryland as successful as possible.
Increasing Coordination to Enhance Safety
As I have said repeatedly, creating real and meaningful public safety requires coordination at every level of government. We know that increases in crime are occurring throughout the State, not just in any one location. To effectively reduce those instances, we need executives throughout our governmental structures to implement a holistic plan with fidelity, measuring impact and making adjustments as needed.

The Maryland General Assembly has been intensely focused on providing State agencies and local governments with the resources needed to put that collaboration into practice. That’s why I was pleased to see Governor Moore’s announcement last week naming Lt. Col. Roland Butler the new Superintendent of State Police and allocating $11 million to scale up the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC). The MCAC must act as the quarterback to coordinate between all entities with a responsibility for decreasing crime throughout Maryland. It is refreshing to have a Governor who understands that "Our job is not to look at jurisdictions and tell them to do better. Our job is to be a partner," as Governor Moore said at the announcement.

That’s also why the Maryland Senate confirmed Secretary Vincent Schiraldi to lead the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) last week. As we see more crime involving youth, DJS is poised to play an integral role in that statewide strategy. Secretary Schiraldi is deeply committed to restorative justice practices and rehabilitation programs premised on the belief that young offenders who receive critical support and comprehensive psychological and psychosocial services can be positive and productive parts of their communities.

We must approach community safety with a mindset of prevention, intervention, justice, and rehabilitation. I am hopeful that the new leadership in Maryland’s government will lead to increased coordination, data sharing, and collaboration that will make a tangible difference in enhancing safety throughout our State.
Safe Storage to Reduce Gun Violence
The distressing level of gun violence in our State has spurred members of the Maryland Senate to introduce legislation to increase public safety. Of the numerous bills under consideration to address these alarming trends, two bills aim to hold gun owners accountable for preventable incidents. The first sets statewide standards for safe storage in situations where unsupervised minors are nearby, and second increases penalties when those procedures are lacking, thereby leading to injury or death. 

These bills are in response to continued incidents involving children and adolescents under 18 accessing improperly stored guns and hurting others. We remember the tragic and preventable deaths of Nykayla Strawder and Jaelynn Willey, victims of gun violence resulting from other adolescents accessing the improperly-stored firearms of family members.

Although we cannot replace the many lives we have already lost through preventable and negligent gun violence, we can focus on increasing gun safety both outside and inside the home to prevent future loss of life.
Addressing SNAP/EBT Fraud
Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee heard Senate Bill 2 to support victims of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) fraud. I am acutely aware of the magnitude of the problem that our residents have experienced due to theft of these vital benefits. Over the last few months, my office has worked tirelessly to find ways to match constituents who had their benefits stolen with other resources to keep food on their table and a roof over their heads. 

Government’s most fundamental role is to support our most vulnerable residents in times of challenge. We have previously fallen short of that mission without a Department of Human Services (DHS) whose leadership supported making those Marylanders whole. Fortunately, the new DHS Secretary, Rafael López, supported Senate Bill 2 when it was heard in the Senate last week. That legislation would retroactively provide SNAP/EBT benefits to residents who had those critical funds stolen.
More News
It’s not often that I sponsor legislation as President of the Senate and have the opportunity to testify on those bills. Last week, I had the privilege of providing testimony on two of my bills this Session to the Senate Finance and Education, Energy, and the Environment Committees. Those bills include Senate Bill 607, the annual 46th District Delegation’s local liquor revisions, and Senate Bill 338, a bill establishing a grant program for school communities interested in adopting an extended school year model to allow their students to maximize educational outcomes.

One part of Senate Bill 607 is tailored to support the Creative Alliance’s Creativity Center, which was recently featured in The Baltimore Sun. The Creative Alliance is an incredible anchor institution and nonprofit centered on building community in Southeast Baltimore. Thanks in part to State funding, the Creativity Center opened a new 10,000-square-foot space on Eastern Avenue last year, including additional classrooms, a dance studio, a test kitchen, and an art space. 

Governor Moore joined 19 other states to form a new Reproductive Freedom Alliance to safeguard and improve abortion and reproductive healthcare access “in the face of an unprecedented assault by states hostile to abortion rights,” according to a joint statement.

Maryland will receive nearly $19 million in federal funds for municipalities to test or reduce levels of “forever chemicals” in their water supplies. The funds are part of a grant for small or disadvantaged communities grappling with the presence of chemicals in their water systems.

The future of Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere” is being evaluated thanks to $2 million in federal funds to study a redevelopment designed to connect residents to areas across the City. The controversial 1.4-mile stretch of roadway forced the displacement of over 1,000 residents in a predominantly Black community when it was built decades ago.

The Orioles are committed to Camden Yards for the long haul according to Chairman and CEO John Angelos, who says he hopes a new lease for the facility will be signed by the July All-Star break. Angelos says his family has no plan to sell the team and is committed to their long-term success in Baltimore.

The State Center COVID-19 testing and vaccine site on Preston Street officially closed on Friday. Tests and supplies will be offered at City and county health sites, doctor’s offices, and pharmacies in the future.
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.