We are at the midpoint of the 2021 Maryland General Assembly session. The session’s pace is as fast moving as we would ordinarily find it. The many adaptations that the General Assembly made to meet the challenges caused by the COVID emergency are working and enabling us to fulfill out duty to the people of Maryland. We remain committed to addressing the urgent needs created in the wake of the pandemic and the separate and equally pressing needs that are also a part of our everyday life.
For this month’s update, I want to spend the time detailing the status of our legislative priorities and discuss our work advancing the needs and concerns of our district. The activities of the legislative session are beginning to grow increasingly hurried and determined as bills move across the hall from the Senate to the House or vice-versa for final passage. We continue our standard session routine: each morning we convene in the chamber and use afternoons for our committees as we ordinarily would. I take the privilege of serving you in the Maryland General Assembly to heart and approach each day determined to deliver for our district.
My new role as the Chair of Baltimore City’s Senate Delegation keeps me busy following all Senate activity affecting Baltimore City. The Delegation is where the six state senators whom represent the City in the Maryland General Assembly gather to discuss the matters affecting Baltimore and act on our agenda. The Delegation is focused on representing the interests, needs, and concerns of the city and its residents. One priority is ensuring that sufficient state funds are appropriated to support Baltimore City Public Schools’ academic, infrastructure, and operational needs. The Delegation holds hearings on important legislation that affects the City. The Mayor of Baltimore annually unveils a list of budget priorities for state consideration, which the Delegation works to secure.
We have created a new website for the Delegation, please tell us your thoughts so we keep you informed of our work. Below I have also provided a link to our recent weekly briefings.
We host weekly briefings to highlight issues of concern for Baltimore. Below is a list of the recent briefings and a link to the videos.
- January 18, 2021 – Resources for Local Small Businesses
- January 25, 2021 – COVID’s Impact to our Colleges and Universities with Dr. McCurdy – BCCC, Dr. Wilson – Morgan State University, Dr. Jenkins – Coppin State University, and Ron Daniels – Johns Hopkins University
- February 1, 2021 – Housing Resources
- Febuaray 8, 2021 –Baltimore’s Congressional Delegation
- Feburary 15, 2021 –City Administrator Christopher Shorter
- March 1, 2021 –Public Safety Briefing
- March 8, 2021 –Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises and Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonté Brown
“Members of the state Senate who represent Baltimore City are asking Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to redouble his efforts to get city residents vaccinated against COVID-19 — particularly people of color. In a Monday letter to Hogan, the lawmakers express “grave concerns” with the rollout of the state’s vaccination program, which they say “is not being executed equitably.” – Maryland Matters
Over the first weekend of March, the delegation wrote to Gov. Hogan following his public comments about the allocation of COVID vaccines delivered to Baltimore City. We noted that: “Currently, fewer than 40% of those vaccinated in Baltimore City have been Baltimore City residents. The racial disparity in vaccination is also alarming, with less than 6% of Black Baltimoreans, who comprise over 60% of the population, being vaccinated –compared with over 16% of white residents. Thus, we are asking for greater partnership to aid in getting City residents vaccinated.”
Equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine is matter of justice. We must act to protect all Maryland residents from COVID and ensure access is open to all. Our letter and advocacy on behalf our community was discussed in the Baltimore Sun and by Fox45.
COVID Vaccination Information
We are currently in Phase 1C of the vaccination process. If you or a loved one is looking for an appointment, vaccination interest form for older adults is available at the Baltimore City Health Department’s website at coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov/covax. Those older adults without access to the internet can also call the Maryland Access Point hotline at 410-396-2273.
Local area hospitals and medical providers listed on coronavirus.maryland.gov, under Find a Vaccine, have created interest forms for vaccinations when they become available, and residents in eligible Priority Groups are encouraged to visit those websites and sign up. As of February 1, some Baltimore-area Giant, Safeway, and Rite Aid locations have begun posting appointment links on the same website.
SB 525 – Centralized Booking Facility – Ballot Drop Box
Senate Bill 525, Baltimore City – Centralized Booking Facility – Voting Information and Early Voting Polling Place, requires the Baltimore City centralized booking facility to disseminate written information on voter registration and instructions directly to each eligible voter incarcerated in the facility. The bill is amended to require the State Board to provide a ballot drop box to the Baltimore City centralized booking facility in time to allow eligible voters an opportunity to vote. The bill passed the Senate and moves to the House of Delegate for its review. I’m very excited by this progress because those whom can, should be provided reasonable access to the ballot box. Maryland must be proactive, and follow the actions of other leading communities, in removing all barriers that stop legally eligible citizens from exercising their right to vote.
SB 199 – Maryland Transit Administration – Funding – Transit Safety and Investment Act
Fox45 recently noted SB199 for its effort to address MTA’s backlog of maintenance needs. I previously mentioned that our state’s investment in public transportation is crucial to its economic growth and long-term viability. We recently held the Senate hearing for the bill and it is under review by the Budget & Taxation Committee. With this legislation, we will make substantive change to sustain and advance the MTA.
SB 2 – Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act of 2021
I have previously mention efforts to reform the Maryland Environmental Service since we learned that the agency’s former director spent lavishly and negotiated a significant payout when he left to become the governor’s chief of staff over the summer. The Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act is designed in part to establish stronger oversight of the agency and protect the investment of Maryland’s taxpayers. I am delighted to report that the bill has passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House of Delegates for its review.
SB 96 – Behavioral Health Programs and Health Care Facilities – Safety and Community Relations Plans
We continue our ongoing effort to ensure that Behavioral Health Organizations communicate with and respect their local communities. With SB96, Maryland will require that the regulations adopted by the Behavioral Health Administration governing the licensure of behavioral health programs include a requirement that the programs establish and implement a safety plan for the safety of the individuals in the program and a community relations plan before being issued an operating license. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously and has now moved to the House of Delegates for its review.
SB184 – Reduced Fare Program for Opioid Treatment Program Patients
Opioid treatment programs work diligently with their consumers to build productive and healthy lives and in support of their work, we have charged the Maryland Transit Administration with providing opioid treatment programs with monthly passes for their patients. A concern, however, is how we hold treatment centers accountable while ensuring that their clients are receiving the best care. This bill alter the application of the Maryland Transit Administration’s reduced fare program for opioid treatment program patients by prohibiting participation of program centers which are sanctioned or have had their licenses suspended or revoked. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously and has now moved to the House of Delegates for its review.
SB114 – Expungement of Conviction and Subsequent Offender Penalties – Driving While Privilege Is Canceled, Suspended, Refused, or Revoked
SB114 provides for relief by expungement if a person is convicted of a misdemeanor involving driving while the person’s license or privilege to drive is canceled, suspended, refused, or revoked. This legislation is an important part of eliminating unnecessary burdens that prevent individuals from accessing living wages in sound jobs. I’m very proud that the bill passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House of Delegates.
Creating Incentives to End Food Deserts
We lost a supermarket in our district when Save-A-Lot in Oliver at Church Square closed. Since then, I have been working on legislation that acts to retain and attract super markets to our area. I have introduced a series of proposals to create incentives for attracting businesses that retail healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, in areas noted as a food desert. One proposal provides for grocery stores to retail beer and wine in new establishments that are situated in a food deserts so that they are incentivized to open the market.
SB365 expands the purposes of the Neighborhood Business Development Program within the Department of Housing and Community Development to include retaining and creating small businesses that provide access to healthy food in designated “food deserts” by providing loans that can be used to cover operating expenses incurred in providing access to healthy food in food deserts. Our state would forgive the loan issued for operating costs after five years if the loan recipient maintains continuous operations at the same location during that time. SB913 establishes a Heat and Eat Program within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to expand food access to households that are receiving or eligible for SNAP. A household is eligible to participate in the program if they are eligible for SNAP under State and federal law. Both bills passed the Senate and now move to the House of Delegates.
Finally, it was a pleasure to be a part of the Enoch Pratt’s Free To Bmore Podcast. It was a thoughtful conversation about our city’s challenges and the inspiring and encouraging ways everyday people are meeting those hurdles. I hope you find my thoughts useful too.
Listening. Learning. Leading.
Cory V. McCray
Senator, 45th Legislative District