July 13, 2023
This Independence Day was one of mixed emotions. I spent the day walking in the 30th Annual Federal Hill Fourth of July Parade, enjoying the Cherry Hill Arts and Music Waterfront Festival at Middle Branch Park, and watching the fireworks from Rash Field Park as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed. At the same time, I visited Brooklyn Homes with numerous other elected officials as the community continued grappling with the tragedy that had just unfolded. 

Two days before, Baltimore suffered the largest mass shooting in its history: 30 people shot at a block party meant to celebrate the Brooklyn community. Two young people died. A few days later, another mass shooting in Salisbury claimed the life of a 14-year-old. It was the third fatal mass shooting in Maryland in three weeks.
 
Gun violence is devastating, especially when it involves young people in our City and State with their whole lives ahead of them. My heart goes out to the victims, their families, and our entire community. The City's new Peace Mobile brought resources and BMore Community Food arrived to help those impacted by the tragedy.  
 
The State will continue to partner with the City of Baltimore to identify and address the root causes of the gun violence epidemic in our community. It is important, however, to realize that this is not just a Baltimore problem, or a Maryland problem. It is an issue faced by communities around this nation, and it can only be solved if we are willing to make hard decisions based on fresh thinking and new strategies that respond to the myriad of factors driving these horrific events.

The prevalence of guns in our society is increasingly untenable and will continue to create an environment where these incidents occur until we take additional steps to minimize the root causes of violence.
Supreme Court Ends Affirmative Action
At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring that race can no longer be a meaningful factor in determining student acceptance. This ruling is yet another example of the Court upending decades of established legal precedent. The United States is a great nation because of our ability to recognize and right historical wrongs. There are few such wrongs that require redress more than our history of systemic racism and disenfranchisement against Americans of color. When race is removed as a meaningful consideration in college admissions, what's sure to come is a less diverse student body.

The Court’s decision will not deter us from our commitment to valuing all Marylanders’ innate potential. The Maryland General Assembly, in consultation with the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, recognized the possibility of today's decision and the seemingly inexorable shift by the Court back to a dangerous and inequitable time. As a result, we have passed legislation that accomplishes the same intent of enhancing economic justice for those most disadvantaged by a legacy of racism. That approach will continue as we evaluate further actions the legislature can take to safeguard our State against these radical decisions by the United States Supreme Court.
New Laws as of July 1
More than 300 new state laws took effect in Maryland on July 1, including the legalization of adult recreational use of cannabis. Although cannabis legalization dominated many of the headlines, a number of other key initiatives also went into effect this month, including:

  • The Keep Our Heroes Home Act, expanding the amount of military retirement income exempt from state taxes for veterans 55 and older;
  • The Health Care for Heroes Act of 2023, expanding health and dental insurance premium reimbursements for members of the Maryland National Guard;
  • Senate Bill 3, mandating an appropriation of $12 million per year to fully fund the 9-8-8 behavioral health crisis hotline;
  • Senate Bill 248, ensuring that higher education institutions cannot withhold student transcripts over unpaid balances; and
  • Senate Bill 650, establishing a State Disaster Recovery Fund to help those impacted by natural disasters when a federal disaster declaration is not received.
Maryland 529 Prepaid College Trust Update
One of the issues from the 2023 Legislative Session that received significant attention was surrounding parents who had enrolled in the Maryland 529’s Prepaid College Trust and the mismanagement of that program. Families who invested in that type of Maryland 529 account received incorrect and confusing information that led many of them to make once-in-a-lifetime college enrollment decisions based on that faulty data.

We reformed the Maryland 529 program by abolishing the independent oversight board and transferring administrative authority to the State Treasurer’s Office. Monday, Treasurer Davis announced that his office is restoring interest earned under the Prepaid College Trust to the amount due under a previous contract. Account holders will receive a 6% interest rate, compounded monthly for contributions made before November 1, 2021. Manual calculations are now underway and a claims process will be announced after relevant records are updated. Although the solution was not as immediate as these families deserved, I am grateful for Treasurer Davis’ leadership in reaching an equitable outcome.
More News
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is bringing performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to public parks throughout Baltimore City this month. These are free performances including the following showings in the 46th Legislative District:

  • July 20 and 22 at 7:00 p.m. - the Observatory Tower in Patterson Park
  • July 27 and 28 at 7:00 p.m. - the Boat House in Middle Branch Park

A new study by Lendio has ranked Maryland as the second-best state in the country for minority entrepreneurs to succeed. The study looked at factors such as income inequality, the unemployment rate ratio between different demographics, the minority business ownership rate, the number of new businesses owned by minorities, the percentage change in the number of Community Advantage loan approvals, and Community Reinvestment Act loan totals for small business owners with revenues of $1 million or less. 

Baltimore Restaurant Week will return July 21 through July 30 with approximately 100 of the best dining establishments in central Maryland participating. The promotion encourages the discovery of new restaurants or repeat visits to favorite eateries across the city by offering delicious discounts.

An art exhibit honoring essential workers who ran the COVID-19 field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center was unveiled early this month. Part of the Art With a Heart program, two-dozen Baltimore students created the exhibit using hand-cut tiles, recycled face shields, gloves, and 1,495 clay beads—the number of patients tended to in the facility during the pandemic—to form hexagonal shapes on the Center’s lobby wall.
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.