June 11, 2021
We are nearly halfway through 2021 and there are so many signs pointing that Maryland is moving in the right direction of recovery. Over half of Marylanders are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, COVID-19 metrics have been consistently declining, the State is safely reopening, and we are slowly rediscovering the sense of “normalcy” that we lost a year and a half ago.

Still, the pandemic’s impacts are far from over and challenges remain unsolved. Predictable incidents of violence, like the ones we witnessed in Fell’s Point last weekend, must be addressed and thousands of Marylanders are now extremely vulnerable due to the Governor’s decision to prematurely end our State’s participation in extended federal unemployment insurance benefits. 

I still firmly believe that we can solve big problems when partners at all levels come together in search of a solution. This was the Senate’s approach to improving vaccine distribution and access through the Vaccine Oversight Workgroup, which helped Maryland get to this point in our fight against COVID-19. Marylanders deserve collaborative, evidence-based approaches to bettering our City and State for all our residents, especially the most vulnerable among us.
A Premature End to Federal UI Benefits
Last week, Governor Hogan announced that he will end Maryland’s participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs on July 3. These programs have bolstered thousands of Maryland’s families over the past year and a half, and their premature cessation is pulling the rug out from thousands of Marylanders, including the more than 175,000 Marylanders receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Further, all Marylanders receiving unemployment will stop receiving enhanced $300 weekly payments that go directly back to our local economies.

Senator Klausmeier, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight, and I wrote a letter to Governor Hogan urging him to develop another course of action that supports our small businesses without cutting off critical lifelines for everyday Marylanders who are already fighting to get by. States like Colorado are incentivizing those accessing unemployment insurance benefits to find employment and remain employed without needlessly punishing thousands of others who still cannot return to work for a number of valid reasons. I am thankful that our Congressional representatives are also echoing these calls

Marylanders need leadership with empathy at a time of ongoing crisis. As I stated earlier this week, basing public policy on partisan narrative denies human dignity, puts profits over people, and puts politics over sound economic research. Perhaps a quote from a Marylander's op-ed this week who lost her job in the hospitality industry in March 2020 due to the pandemic says it best: “We are still out of work. That’s not because we want to stay at home...Cutting my unemployment doesn’t make my job come back faster or help other workers find child care. It just makes our lives significantly more painful.”
Building a Safer Baltimore
The violence in Fell's Point last weekend left me heartbroken and frustrated, both because individuals were harmed and because the violence was predictable and preventable. Building a better Baltimore requires taking an urgent and coordinated approach that is grounded in prevention, deterrence, and diversion. For months, Delegates Clippinger, Lierman, Lewis and Councilman Cohen and I have been working together to advocate for our City and State partners for a coordinated plan to be put in place that mitigates crowds and deescalates issues in Fells Point and other public spaces of late night concern.

We must be able to take proactive approaches when patterns and predictability exist. I am committed to continuing to work with Mayor Scott and our State partners to implement a comprehensive plan to proactively address the causes of these incidents. I am glad that the Maryland State Police and Maryland Transit Police will work with City partners this weekend to increase DUI enforcement efforts to hopefully serve as a further deterrent. There will also be a number of road closures and parking restrictions enforced during the evening hours, which residents with valid permits will be exempt from. 

Whether we are talking about Fell’s Point, Cherry Hill, Patterson Park, O’Donnell Heights, or anywhere else in the 46th Legislative District and Baltimore City, residents must feel safe, receive reliable municipal services, and believe that government is working in their interest.
Additional Vetoes Announced
In the last newsletter, I wrote about a number of disappointing vetoes by the Governor, and last Friday, nineteen more crucial pieces of legislation were vetoed. These measures would have strengthened Maryland’s transportation system, extended collective bargaining rights to State employees, required planning for the State’s long-term COVID-19 response, and provided much needed oversight of government emergency procurement contracts.

A number of these bills were supported by members on both sides of the aisle, because many legislators, regardless of political party, recognized the benefits that they would provide to Maryland’s communities and businesses. Before the next Legislative Session, I will be discussing the vetoed legislation with members of the Senate and House Leadership in order to plan our next steps.
City Schools Gears Up for Summer Programming
As the end of the school year approaches, districts all around the State are preparing to support students through summer programming. Many districts will be offering record numbers of seats to students, in order to address the impact of the pandemic on students’ academic and emotional needs. Baltimore City Public Schools has slots for 16,000 students (up from 9,000 before the pandemic) to engage in programming across 100 schools in the District. Summer offerings will focus on students who need intensive academic support, particularly seniors and high schoolers, but will also include enrichment courses and arts programming, including an Alvin Ailey Dance Camp at Towson University.

During the recent Legislative Session, we worked to pass legislation amending the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to address the impact of the pandemic, including a requirement for all of Maryland’s school districts to implement summer academic programming. While this is part of the way City Schools has historically functioned, I am thankful for the efforts of Baltimore’s teachers and District Office employees who are working hard to quickly expand and adapt summer programming. Baltimore’s students deserve our best efforts to support them through the long-term effects of the pandemic, and robust and accessible summer programming is our first step on the long road of recovery.

It is also important to note that the school closures this week due to lack of air conditioning in the midst of a heat wave is a travesty. Baltimore City Public Schools has made immense strides in lowering the number of schools lacking AC, but the end and beginning of every school year reinforce the urgency of the problem. That is exactly why the Maryland General Assembly ensured $80 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan will go towards immediate HVAC and ventilation improvements in Baltimore City and across the State, and why the General Assembly passed legislation to fund billions in school construction throughout the State, including hundreds of millions more in Baltimore City.
Vaccination Progress
With half of Maryland adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and over 70% having received at least one dose of the vaccine, it feels like we are moving over the hump of the pandemic. Some changes are coming: many of the state-run mass vaccination sites are closing early next month, as we focus our resources on mobile and community-based clinics. The vaccination site at the Baltimore Convention Center will remain open. 

Equity continues to be a priority in the “home stretch” of the vaccination campaign. Baltimore City recently established a grant program to support local vaccination clinics and outreach efforts, and will continue a rotating schedule of mobile and pop-up clinics. The Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup has advocated for these on-the-ground efforts since the beginning of the rollout and continues to support targeted efforts to make vaccinations accessible in every community. The Vaccine Oversight Workgroup will continue meeting every few weeks to hear from Secretary Schrader and receive periodic updates from the Maryland Department of Health.
Maryland Needs You!
Maryland has a large number of advisory boards and commissions that help inform the work of our State agencies and the Maryland General Assembly on issues ranging from public health to public education and criminal justice reform to agricultural practices. As Senate President, I have the distinct honor of appointing qualified Marylanders to serve our State on those boards and commissions.

I am also hoping to connect local community organizations doing incredible work in Baltimore neighborhoods with grant writers to help expand their impact. If you are interested in being considered to serve on a State board or commission, or are willing to volunteer with one of our vital community organizations, please reach out as soon as possible by email (bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us).
Senate President's Office Staffing Update
This afternoon, I announced Sally McMillan Robb, Esq. will serve as my Chief of Staff effective August 1. Sally will follow Yaakov “Jake” Weissmann, Esq., who is departing after serving as Chief of Staff for the last three years, and in the Senate for the last 12 years.  
Sally has a keen understanding of policy and the legislative processes that has been so important to the Senate’s historic success. She understands the bipartisan nature of the Senate, has deep relationships on both sides of the aisle, and will provide stable leadership as we head into the final year of this term. Sally will continue the work of departing Chief of Staff, Jake Weissmann, whose talents, skills, and collegiality have so effectively helped the Senate of Maryland achieve immense progress in the face of historic transitions and a global pandemic.

Over the last 18 months, the State of Maryland has experienced a global pandemic, embarked on a new vision for public education, and tackled unforeseen State budget challenges and surpluses. Amidst all of this, Jake has been my chief advisor, strategist, and counsel. His insights and abilities have allowed us to navigate challenges the Senate of Maryland had never experienced before. I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude for his steadfast service and commitment to this work and to members of the Senate.
More News
Last Thursday, we welcomed Baltimore’s fourth trash wheel, “Gwynnda the Good Wheel of the West”, to her permanent home at the mouth of the Gwynns Falls. Gwynnda is able to collect approximately 300 tons of trash and debris from the Gwynns Falls each year, and has a “magic wand” grappling arm that can lift logs and other tree debris.

The Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight held another hearing yesterday as the investigation into the public payout to Roy McGrath when he left Maryland Environmental Services to take on a new role as Governor Hogan's Chief of Staff continues. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and I was particularly disturbed by finding that a close associate of Mr. McGrath's attempted to hide the payout by altering the minutes from the relevant MES board meeting.

A WalletHub study released on Monday stated that Maryland’s economy is ranked the 7th best in the nation. WalletHub used data compiled by U.S. government agencies including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

During a U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing on Wednesday, Senator Ben Cardin called for a more equitable approach to distributing funding from the Small Business Investment Company Program (SBIC). In order to better support businesses run by entrepreneurs in underserved communities, we must take actions to lower the market’s barriers to entry, including by providing access to capital. 

Three Baltimore-area companies were named on this year’s Fortune 500 list, which ranks 500 U.S. corporations by total revenue. T. Rowe Price Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and McCormick & Co. earned this recognition, and are examples of the strong businesses operating in our city. 

Eight public school systems in Maryland, including Baltimore City Public Schools have joined the state’s Youth Apprenticeship Program since the beginning of 2020. The program pairs high school students with employers in a variety of fields, including biosciences and health care, to earn wages while learning on-the-job knowledge and skills. This type of job training is becoming an increasingly important component of our secondary and higher education landscape. 

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.