August 8, 2023
The passage of legislation during the Maryland General Assembly’s annual legislative session is just the beginning of the journey. In recent weeks, we’ve received status updates on the implementation of key pieces of policy including the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, adult-use recreational cannabis legalization, and the State’s 9-8-8 behavioral health crisis hotline.

The Blueprint’s Accountability and Implementation Board recently approved all 24 school systems’ plans for transformational education reform within their respective districts. The Blueprint continues to provide historic funding to Maryland’s public schools as we expand publicly funded pre-k, increase onboarding of highly qualified teachers, ensure students are college and career ready upon graduation, and provide additional resources so that all students can maximize their potential.

Cannabis legalization went into effect on July 1 of this year. In the first month, Maryland recorded over $87 million in the combined sales of recreational and medical cannabis. Although medical cannabis remains untaxed, the Maryland Cannabis Administration estimates that the sales of recreational cannabis raised nearly $4.5 million in tax revenue. That funding will be distributed to public health efforts, local governments to enhance safety efforts, and a State fund aimed at ensuring equitable market participation by communities disparately impacted by the failed war on drugs.

Recognizing that we are in the midst of a behavioral health crisis in Maryland and across the country, the Maryland General Assembly established the 9-8-8 hotline in the 2022 Legislative Session. By shortening the call number that Marylanders have to remember to seek help in a time of acute need, the number of calls to the crisis hotline have increased 38% since its launch. I’m proud of the passage of follow up legislation in the most recent session to fully fund the hotline with $12 million per year to ensure the availability of this life-saving service.
PSC Hearing on Gas Regulators in Baltimore City
For more than two years, the 46th Legislative District Delegation has actively engaged with stakeholders including the Public Service Commission (PSC), BGE, Office of People’s Counsel, and numerous community associations regarding BGE’s installation of external gas regulators. Residents have raised legitimate concerns regarding the safety of the external placement of these regulators, as well as the inconsistent aesthetic with homes in historic districts.

While we are perplexed that it has taken over two years to get to the point of formal administrative review, we are pleased that the PSC is finally adjudicating consumer complaints in a hearing on August 15. In advance of that hearing, Delegates Clippinger, Lewis, Edelson, and I sent a letter to PSC Chair Hoover detailing our concerns with how both the PSC and BGE have formally handled customer concerns thus far

Further, we asked that the PSC investigate whether BGE has upheld its commitment to provide consistent and accurate information to the customers it serves. Recent claims, including the use of “aggressive tactics” to achieve consent for the installation of external gas regulators while the temporary restraining order is in place, are particularly concerning.

The PSC will hold the hearing on Tuesday, August 15 at 10:00 a.m. in the Frank O. Heintz Hearing Room on the 16th Floor of William Donald Schaefer Tower (6 St. Paul Street). The PSC is currently accepting written comments, as well as names of individuals who would like to testify in person. More information on the hearing itself and how to provide feedback to the Commission can be found here.
Maryland Tax-Free Week Almost Here
Comptroller Brooke Lierman has announced that Maryland Tax-Free Week will take place from August 13 to 19. The annual break from our State sales taxes is an important time for Maryland families to save money while doing their back-to-school shopping. During the week, any single qualifying article of clothing or footwear priced $100 or less (regardless of how many items are purchased in the same transaction) will be exempt from the state's 6% sales tax. The first $40 of any backpack purchase is also tax-free.
MD Child Care Scholarship Portal Upgraded
Thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2022, the Maryland State Department of Education recently upgraded its Child Care Scholarship (CCS) Application process to speed up help to families who are eligible for assistance with childcare costs. The new "Fast-Track" application shortens the scholarship approval wait time from 35 to 3 business days. Eligible families will receive a temporary scholarship for 60 days while their application is processed. Scholarships are available for a child younger than 13, or an individual 13-19 years with a qualifying disability.

Eligible families will receive 60 days of temporary child care assistance under the CCS program and will be provided with a pathway to a full, 52-week Child Care Scholarship.

To qualify for the fast-track CCS scholarship, applicants must:

  • Be a Maryland resident;
  • Be employed or enrolled in school or a training program; and
  • Meet the program income requirements.

Families can apply through the Child Care Scholarship Family Portal. Visit money4childcare.com for more information.
Homeowner Assistance Funds Still Available
Marylanders struggling with mortgage payments and housing costs still have time to access funds from the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) and HAF WholeHome Program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. The application portal for both programs remains open for homeowners to receive assistance. However, the programs will begin to waitlist applicants as early as August 15, and will close after the remaining funding is entirely allocated. If you need support, I encourage you to apply while the funding remains.

If you need housing counseling and legal services, please call 1-877-462-7555. If you want updates on a HAF application, please check the "communications" tab in the HAF portal or reach the Homeowner Assistance Fund call center at 833-676-0119.
Acting Commissioner Worley to Share Vision
Mayor Scott and Acting Police Commissioner Worley will hold a series of town-hall style meetings this month, allowing residents to meet the Acting Commissioner and hear his vision for Baltimore’s police department. It will also present an opportunity for Baltimoreans to ask questions and share their concerns about public safety in the City.

The meetings, which begin on August 8, will include stops in Northwest, Central, South, and East Baltimore, as well as one virtual and two telephone town halls. A full list of those public hearings are below:

  • Tuesday, August 8, 10:00 a.m.: Telephone town hall for older adults - dial-in information provided upon RSVP.
  • Wednesday, August 9, 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: Virtual community meeting streamed here.
  • Monday, August 14, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.: Meeting at The Lord's Church, 5010 Park Heights Ave.
  • Tuesday, August 22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.: Meeting at the Shake & Bake Family Fun Center, 1601 Pennsylvania Ave.
  • Thursday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.: Meeting at the National Federation of the Blind, 200 E. Wells St.
  • Monday, August 28, 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Telephone town hall - dial-in information provided upon RSVP.
  • Tuesday, August 29, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.: Meeting at the Greater Paradise Christian Center, 2900 E. Oliver St.

You can RSVP to attend the community meetings online here or by calling 311.
More News
The family of Henrietta Lacks settled a landmark lawsuit last week against a company that developed and sold products derived from cancer cells obtained and used for research without her permission. Senators Van Hollen, Cardin, and Rep. Mfume have filed legislation to award Lacks the Congressional Gold Medal for her contributions to medicine, as her endlessly dividing cancer cells have led to breakthroughs in a multitude of medical discoveries in the treatment of many cancers, blood disorders, and HIV. For Lacks' descendants, the settlement comes more than 70 years after a Johns Hopkins doctor took her cells without her consent and then shared them with researchers.

The Highlandtown Community Association will host a community paint day on September 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to create traffic-calming crosswalk murals to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Eastern and Ellwood Avenues. This project is made possible by a Public Art Across Maryland New Artworks grant from the Maryland State Arts Council.

Baltimore will soon have an official network of water trails to take in the City's sights by canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. The trails stretch from the World War II submarine in the Inner Harbor to the wildlife along the Patapsco River's Middle Branch. Dubbed the Baltimore Blueway, the plan for an eight-trail network is a collaboration between the Waterfront Partnership, the City government, and local nonprofits.

President Joe Biden has nominated Former Governor and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley to head the Social Security Administration. If confirmed by the Senate, O'Malley would oversee around 60,000 administration employees at the Woodlawn headquarters. The Agency administers federal retirement, disability, and family benefits programs and enrolls people in Medicare health coverage.

After being closed to new applicants for nearly four years, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City will reopen its public housing waitlist for a two-week period starting August 1. The Authority owns and manages public housing sites across the City with public funding and will open as many as 13,000 spots on the waitlist. If there are more than that number of applications, the Authority will choose who is selected at random.
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.