February 26, 2021
The 2021 Legislative Session has reached its halfway point and we continue to legislate under extraordinary circumstances in an effort to pass policies that support all Marylanders. As you may have heard, on Tuesday, several Senators received false positive results from the COVID-19 rapid tests that are part of our safety protocol this Session, only to then have their more accurate PCR test results come back negative. 

Those false positives were immensely concerning and took a number of senators off of the Senate floor for a day. The episode is a sobering reminder of the unique challenges the Maryland General Assembly faces this year as we try to maximize productivity while minimizing risk. It also highlighted that those efforts have, so far, been successful despite their challenges. It is very possible that similar situations will continue as the Senate conducts its work on the floor more frequently in the latter half of this Session.
Trust, Transparency, and Accountability in Police Reform
Last night, the Judicial Proceedings Committee finished voting on a comprehensive package of nine bills to reform policing in Maryland that prioritize core values of trust, transparency, and accountability. This package is the most robust and transformational set of police reform recommendations in decades and is now being considered by the full Senate where I look forward to supporting each of the nine bills.

I would be remiss not to thank Chair Will Smith, Senator Jill P. Carter, Senator Charles E. Sydnor III, and the entire committee for their work on this legislation over the last six months. This process began last summer, after several heartbreaking, police-involved killings of Black individuals reminded us once again of the injustices in our police system, and concluded after over 30 hours of voting sessions. Ultimately, the legislative process worked to find compromise and consensus where possible between civil rights attorneys and current and former law enforcement officers who all serve on the Judicial Proceedings Committee. 

Reforming policing in Maryland is fundamentally about creating safer communities for all Marylanders, which will thereby keep the police who are sworn to serve and protect those communities safe as well. It is vital that all officers serve the public with integrity. When passed and enacted, these bills will create substantive reforms that meaningfully and positively impact the lives of countless Marylanders.
Johnson and Johnson Vaccine Poised for Approval
Johnson & Johnson has applied for emergency use authorization for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which has been proven to be overall safe and highly effective against the virus. Most importantly, the vaccine joins already-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in being 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death. Johnson & Johnson is partnering with Gaithersburg-based company Emergent BioSolutions to manufacture vaccines at its facility in Bayview, where employees are working to make around 400 million doses of the yet-to-be-approved Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines.

We anticipate that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine will be approved by the FDA for emergency use within the next few days. Approval would quickly trigger vaccine distribution, providing a much needed boost to the national supply of doses and highlighting the great science happening right here in Baltimore.
New Mass Vaccination Sites and Signup Site Coming
The Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup has advocated for a centralized approach to scheduling vaccine appointments since we started meeting, and I am glad that the Department of Health is following our recommendations. During Monday’s meeting of the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup, the Department of Health stated that in March, it will launch a statewide centralized website for scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments at Maryland’s three mass vaccination sites: Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, the Baltimore City Convention Center, and M&T Bank Stadium. 

When our State’s fourth mass vaccination site opens next month in Charles County, its appointments will also be included on the centralized website. This online signup tool will supplement the newly launched phone line to connect Marylanders with information around vaccine appointments. Marylanders can call 855-634-6829 to get support with registering for appointments at mass vaccination clinics or finding their closest provider. 

We are committed to ensuring that as the portal launches, it will fulfill its aim of making the vaccine sign-up process more accessible and less confusing. Unfortunately, appointments for doses from hospitals, health departments, and pharmacies will still be scheduled through individual providers. 

Still, we need to urgently address the inequities in vaccine distribution along lines of race and socioeconomic status. While it may be convenient to blame vaccine hesitancy in some communities, it is far from the sole explanation for the disparate vaccine rollout. Further, if vaccine hesitancy is the driving force, that only makes it more critical for the Maryland Department of Health to build confidence in the most skeptical communities while increasing access. 

The Workgroup will continue to advocate for targeted solutions and we hope that the Department of Health will continue to respond appropriately. The Vaccine Oversight Workgroup will continue to meet every Monday at 4pm, and meetings can be watched on YouTube.
EBRP Seeking Resident Researches
The East Baltimore Research Project (EBRP) is a multiyear, multiphase community-led effort to equip residents with data about their own neighborhoods. It is based on the belief that residents know what they need and want to strengthen their neighborhoods, and they should have a voice in shaping changes in their communities. 

EBRP is seeking part-time, paid, virtual resident researchers to support community-engaged research projects focused on the priority issues of housing, jobs, education, and safety. Research trainees will be paid $20/hour and will work 6 hours per week for 12 weeks beginning in May 2021. The EBRP team is seeking individuals who live in East Baltimore, have a passion and commitment for East Baltimore, and are interested in self-improvement and skill-building through training and coaching. Applications are open through March 8th and more information can be found on EBRP’s Facebook page or by emailing eastbaltimoreadvisor@gmail.com.
More News
Earlier this week, I joined CNN International to discuss Maryland's digital ad tax on massive tech companies making over $100 million per year from advertising revenue. As I said during the interview, taxation is not a punishment. It is a necessary component to building civic infrastructure that these companies have benefited from.

Yesterday, I presented an emergency bill to 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. These reforms will ensure that the board is thoroughly equipped to begin implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. 

On Tuesday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh led a coalition of attorneys general in support of the “For the People Act”, an omnibus bill aiming to make voting more accessible through measures including automatically registering eligible voters and requiring same-day registration. Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of our democracy, and these proposals will ensure that our citizens have the voices that they deserve in our political process while fighting the discriminatory voter suppression that is happening in too many states.

The Maryland Department of Labor has extended the statewide foreclosure moratorium through the end of March. Homeowners can call the Maryland HOPE hotline at 1-877-462-7555 for referral to a nonprofit housing advocate or visit the Department of Labor’s website for additional information around mortgage relief. 

Calvin Tyler Jr. and his wife Tina have pledged a $15 million gift to Morgan State University, making their lifetime total of giving to Morgan State $20 million - one of the largest total pledges that an historically Black university has received from a former student. Mr. Tyler attended Morgan State in the 1960s, left before receiving his degree to become a driver for UPS, and retired in 1998 as senior vice president after a long and successful tenure with UPS. All of the Tylers’ gift to Morgan State will be dedicated to financial aid, with a goal of helping students graduate with little or no debt.

Governor Larry Hogan testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday about Maryland’s transportation projects. I agree that investment in infrastructure is a critical part of our State’s recovery from the pandemic, but it must be done equitably with mass transit as part of the package. I was glad to see the Governor’s decision to cancel the Red Line transit project in Baltimore come up during the discussion. We must demonstrate a commitment to thoughtfulness and communication with impacted communities are needed to plan future projects.
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.