January 28, 2022
For many of us who have lived in Baltimore for years—we love this city. We defend it against those who cannot understand its complex history, adore its charm and the people who give it life. This past week, we lost five extraordinary individuals, Paul “PJ” Butrim, Kelsey Sadler, Kenny Lacayo, Chesley Patterson and DaShawn McGrier. 

Baltimore City Fire Lt. Paul Butrim, EMT/Firefighter Kenny Lacayo, and Firefighter/Paramedic Kelsey Sadler, three respected firefighters, gave their lives Monday responding to a devastating row home fire. This was not the first time these firefighters, without hesitation, entered a building ablaze, sacrificing their own lives to rescue others. Baltimore firefighters are heroes, and Lt. Butrim, EMT Lacayo, and Paramedic Sadler have demonstrated the courage and fearlessness that we need in our society, facing fatal circumstances so that we remain safe. 

In the past week, we also lost Chesley Patterson and DeShawn McGrier to horrible gun violence. Patterson, a beloved figure in Little Italy’s restaurant industry, served the community with his kindness. McGrier, a Safe Streets worker, served the City by de-escalating violence and mediating rising conflicts. As a violence interrupter, he changed the environment he grew up in and provided the peace that he desperately wanted to see.

We have a crisis of senseless violence throughout the City, in Maryland, and in our country. These tragedies are devastating losses and only exacerbates the exhaustion we feel from the pandemic. The General Assembly and I are even more impassioned to pass legislation that will provide resources and facilitate holistic, long-term, and rehabilitative solutions to address rising crime throughout our State. 

While there is a temptation to desensitize ourselves from the losses our City experiences, we honor and recognize each life. They committed themselves to bringing forth hope and light into Baltimore, and their legacies will never be forgotten.
Fiscal '23 Budget Introduced
Last week, the Governor introduced operating and capital budgets for fiscal 2023. The proposed $58.24 billion operating State budget and $3.76 billion capital budget provide support for some of our most vulnerable communities while investing in our State employees. Undoubtedly, the support Maryland has received from the federal government allowed the Governor to invest in safety net programs like SNAP and disability assistance. More specifically, the budget:

  • Funds School Construction at $1 billion, including $480 million in revenue bonds through the “Built to Learn” Program;

  • Does not include $99 million in formula funding for Baltimore City schools and $26 million in formula funding for Prince George’s County schools as there is no funding allocated for the Educational Effort Adjustment component of the Blueprint;

  • Increases State operating support for public four-year institutions by over $300 million;

  • Includes the first year of mandated funding for HBCUs under Chapter 41 and 42 of 2021 ($37.5 million);

  • Increases rates for most healthcare providers, including those serving Medicaid enrollees, the developmentally disabled, and people with behavioral health needs;  

  • Increases funding for crime prevention and victim services by $100 million in fiscal 2023;

  • Authorizes $50 million for local legislative priorities in the capital budget;

  • Assists childcare providers by providing $60 million of new State funds for providers and the childcare scholarship program; and

  • Enhances State employee compensation by $195 million in fiscal 22 and provides additional enhancements in fiscal 2023.

Over the next two months, we will be focused on ensuring we are growing and supporting the State’s workforce through investments in State programs and funding. In addition, I will be fighting to fully support our City’s schools, which are the backbone of our families and children’s lives. This budget presents enormous opportunity to grow the middle class and support all of our neighbors and friends.
Eliminating Ghost Guns
One of our top priorities for this session is to ensure the safety of all Maryland residents. With an uptick in violence and homicides using untraceable firearms, I am determined to strengthen the safety of our communities. We are entering our third week in the new year and the Baltimore Police Department has recovered 31 ghost guns; in 2021 there was an alarming proliferation of recovered ghost guns by 133%. 

Currently, individuals in Maryland, including adolescents, can purchase a ghost gun kit to assemble an unfinished firearm that does not have a serial number. Ghost guns allow anyone to bypass background checks and other Maryland requirements for owning a firearm. Additionally, without the serial number the gun is unregistered and thus untraceable to an owner, information that is vital during an investigation.

Senate Bill 387 prohibits the sale or possession of ghost guns. For some, constructing a ghost gun is a recreational activity, but when an individual builds a gun and fires it at another person, it is no longer a hobby. It becomes a weapon of violence and escalates into a shooting. This past Monday, advocates from various districts of all ages came together, united against a lethal weapon and demanding action and change. I am proud to say that my colleagues are working alongside advocates to ban ghost guns and protect our communities against gun violence.
New State Legislative Map Passed
Senate Joint Resolution 2 passed the General Assembly, complying with the legislature’s constitutional responsibility to pass a new legislative map following the Census. First and foremost, the map ensures substantially equal population in each of the districts, reflecting the shift in population throughout Maryland. It does this with the lowest population deviation between districts we have seen in recent memory.

The map demonstrates a commitment to the federal Voting Rights Act by ensuring that our minority voters in Maryland retain their ability to elect their preferred candidates. It also ensures continuity of representation by keeping a majority of Marylanders in their current districts. Marylanders should not have to question who their current representative is, and so many communities have been brought together through their shared interests in their legislative districts, many of which have been together for decades.

Maryland’s geography is unique, and our population is varied. Taking all of that into consideration, I am confident that this map is a fair one, is compact, and one that gives due regard to natural and political boundaries.

I am thankful for the robust discussion and debate and the enormous amount of time community members spent engaging in the process.
COVID-19 Data Trends Improves
Over the last week, we have seen encouraging signs that this wave of COVID-19 is coming to a close. Today, hospitalizations in Maryland fell below 2000 for the first time since late December. Additionally, the positivity rate is almost a third of what we saw just a few weeks ago. Despite these metrics, we must remember that we are still facing case rates that are much higher than previous points in the pandemic. 

Please remember to continue using good judgment as you engage with your family and friends. Wearing a mask, getting boosted, and testing frequently continue to be the best tools to stay safe.

Addressing Violence Around "The Block"
During 2021, violence in and directly around “The Block” in Baltimore’s central business district became untenable. There were an unprecedented 831 calls for service to “The Block” and immediately surrounding areas, including 8 shootings with 11 victims, 15 robberies, 17 aggravated assaults and 1 suspicious death. As The Baltimore Sun reported, nearly 70% of those incidents took place between 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. These incidents occurred despite increased officers and resources to prevent such violence.

Repeated attempts to work with businesses to implement strong security measures have failed and those establishments have not taken appropriate actions, such as installing cameras and hiring private security. Research shows that there is a strong correlation between a concentration in alcoholic beverages establishments and violence.

To address this critical 46th Legislative District issue, I have introduced Senate Bill 222, along with Delegates Clippinger, Lewis, and Lierman, and in partnership with Baltimore Councilman Costello and Baltimore Police Commissioner Harrison.

Every Baltimore resident, including those who live Downtown, deserves to live in a safe neighborhood where violence is addressed to the fullest extent of the law. We cannot afford to have half of a police district's resources diverted to two city blocks, increasing service call response time in other areas such as Upton, Druid Heights, Heritage Crossing, and Mount Vernon. The health, safety, and general welfare of our communities must be paramount as public policy is considered by the Maryland General Assembly. We will pursue all available legal remedies until these incidents are effectively addressed through preventative action.
More News
Maryland and the United States lost a hero last week as Charles McGree, one of the last living members of the Tuskegee Airmen, died at the age of 102. The Maryland Senate adjourned in honor of his legacy, having honorably served his country on and off the battlefield through his tireless fight for civil rights.

I have been proud to sponsor legislation and support increased funding for the Maryland Historic Revitalization Tax Credit Program to give new life to our State’s old building stock. That program is helping to turn an East Baltimore tobacco warehouse into a hub for construction, engineering, and architecture.

The State of Maryland is suing Baltimore City over excessive pollution from the Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants. Finding an immediate resolution is critical as advocates are concerned the leakage could set Chesapeake Bay restoration back decades if allowed to continue.

Climate change remains a threat to our environment, but I am proud to say that my colleagues will introduce a bill that moves Maryland forward. The Climate Solutions Now legislation will fund projects that reduce greenhouse emissions, relieving our communities that are overburdened by pollution.
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.