February 21, 2023
Although overall homicides and non-fatal shootings are down in Baltimore City since the beginning of the new year, we have an undeniable and heartbreaking problem when it comes to the ages of victims and suspects. Five children have died in shootings across Baltimore since January 1. The youngest was eight years old. In the last week alone, seven teenagers were shot.

We must not become numb to these horrifying incidents or accept them as everyday occurrences. This level of violence is not and will never be normal. Fundamentally, we are failing Baltimore City’s youth and those of us in positions of public trust must take accountability for that.

The road to reducing gun violence will be long and winding. It will require patience and many hard choices. Yet, we must approach it with a holistic appreciation of the many diverging forces that put guns in children's hands and fingers on triggers.

As I’ve said repeatedly since the beginning of the 2023 Legislative Session, consequences are an essential component of our criminal justice system, but only come into play after a crime has been committed and a victim exists. It is essential that we take a holistic approach to community safety that builds on prevention, intervention, justice, and rehabilitation. The Maryland General Assembly passed a wide-ranging set of policies and funding to that end last Session. 

I am immensely hopeful that with new and increasingly coordinated leadership at the federal, State, and local levels, we will finally see the impacts of that cohesive strategy. We can reduce violence, especially when it comes to our young people, and we must.
Bipartisan Senate Behavioral Health Package
On Friday, the Senate announced a bipartisan, comprehensive behavioral health package. The legislation addresses the acute crisis that has worsened over the last three years and supports vulnerable Marylanders. As Senate leadership said last week, supporting our State’s residents in times of crisis goes beyond party lines. Fundamentally, this package of bills will do two things:

  1. Improve access to behavioral healthcare; and
  2. Modernize our systems of delivery to match 21st century needs.

We have already started to take steps to improve access to behavioral healthcare for individuals and families by passing Senate Bill 3 to fully fund our State’s 9-8-8 crisis hotline. There’s still much to do, including empowering primary providers who provide a lionshare of behavioral healthcare, supporting our young people through wraparound services, and preserving telehealth access.

At the same time, it’s critical that we modernize our behavioral healthcare systems by creating systems for comprehensive community-level clinics, allowing the use of creative solutions for our highest-need patients, and planning for a 21st century delivery system.

"Green Bag" Appointments Presented
In a tradition dating back to 17th century in England, Appointments Secretary Tisha Edwards presented the Senate with Governor Moore’s “Green Bag” appointments last Friday. This year’s “Green Bag” included more than 300 nominations to Maryland’s boards and commissions touching every level of the executive branch.

The nominations include Craig Thompson, a partner at Venable, to chair the Maryland Stadium Authority as it finalizes lease negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles, and Fred Hoover, a former director of the Maryland Energy Administration, to chair the Public Service Commission which is responsible for utility regulation.

I am glad to see Governor Moore and Secretary Edwards' commitment to ensuring every level of our State’s government reflects the diversity of our residents. According to the administration:

  • 57% of the new Green Bag nominations are women, while currently 45% of members of the boards that got new nominees on Friday are women;
  • 45% of the new Green Bag nominations are people of color, compared to 27% on the boards as currently constituted; and
  • 27% of the new Green Bag nominations are women of color, compared to 16% on the boards with new nominees.

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee looks forward to evaluating these nominations, in addition to the more than 400 outstanding appointments still to be named.
Addressing Child Poverty
One of the most achievable and essential steps we can take to reduce violence, increase racial equity, and improve outcomes is to reduce childhood poverty rates. Improving outcomes for our most exposed families was a defining reason I ran for office after teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools. 

In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly passed the RELIEF Act, which temporarily increased the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income taxpayers, especially for low-income families. This effort was a response to the financial crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we must create a permanent investment in our residents to prevent children from unjustly slipping back into poverty. 

I was glad to see Governor Moore align his agenda and proposed budget with the legislature's long-held priority to reduce childhood poverty rates. The proposed Family Prosperity Act makes the EITC expansion for all Marylanders permanent while also expanding the number of families that would qualify for the Child Tax Credit. Once more, Maryland has another opportunity to be a national role model by creating one of the most comprehensive programs to ensure every Maryland resident has the ability to maximize their potential.
More News
Today, the Maryland General Assembly voted to elect our State Treasurer, who represents the General Assembly on the 25 boards and commissions on which they serve, including the powerful Board of Public Works. Congratulations to Treasurer Dereck Davis on his election after being recommended last week for a full term by the legislative panel tasked with vetting candidates for the position. 

Thanks to The Baltimore Sun for putting together this helpful ‘Maryland General Assembly tracker’ that helps Marylanders stay up to date on some of the headline topics before us this Session. Those policies include recreational cannabis, child sex abuse lawsuits, abortion rights, and more.

The Maryland Senate will be back to full strength soon as the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee voted to nominate Delegate Ariana Kelly to the vacant District 16 Senate seat. The vacancy was left by Maryland’s new Secretary of State, Susan Lee, who was officially confirmed to her post last Monday night. I look forward to having soon-to-be Senator Kelly in our body, where she will join the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Despite legislative objections, former Governor Hogan attempted to drastically scale back the State’s vehicle emissions inspection (VEIP) program a few weeks before leaving office. Governor Moore has paused that policy, citing environmental concerns, so his Administration can take a more comprehensive look at the regulations.

Maryland became a national leader in “Easy Enrollment” for health insurance in 2019 by allowing uninsured Marylanders to check a box on their annual tax returns to begin the enrollment process. More than 10,000 Marylanders have received health insurance through this process since then, and our Congressional Delegation is proposing adopting the same policy nationwide.

Baltimore City is evaluating the future of outdoor parklet dining that became a staple and resident favorite since restaurants reopened during the pandemic. Restaurants throughout the City and the Administration are weighing the fee structure to compensate for lost parking revenue while allowing establishments to maintain their footprints.

Local journalists and chefs are working to preserve the history and contributions of Black cooks who largely have been responsible for making Baltimore City a dining destination for generations. Preserving the culinary history of iconic dishes like crab cakes and terrapin stew, which quintessentially represent Baltimore and Maryland cuisine, is an essential part of uplifting and celebrating the previously untold stories and cooking expertise of our Black communities.

The Heart Health Foundation has organized an important event addressing how we can minimize the disparities in detection, care, and outcomes. The event will take place tomorrow, February 22 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Robert Kaufman Theater of Performing Arts at Anne Arundel Community College (101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD 21012). Leading experts on cardiovascular health will moderate and participate in the panel discussion.
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.