March 19, 2020
For the first time since the Civil War, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned early. The Senate and House leadership balanced the need to pass essential legislation with the need to stop the spread of COVID-19. My colleagues and I worked throughout the weekend and into the night, with very limited staff, in order to serve our constituents.
Combating Coronavirus Legislatively
The Senate and House acted on the urgent issues resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. SB1080 addresses the inevitable hardships caused by this frightening pandemic. We prohibited price gouging on essential items like food, water, and medication. We protected quarantined employees facing termination. These measures and several others build on emergency legislation that allocated $50 million to cover some of the costs associated with this public health emergency. [Read on for more resources.]
Prioritizing Public Safety
In this abbreviated session, legislators were primarily focused on their key priorities. For me, this meant continuing to enact laws to upgrade Maryland’s 9-1-1 emergency response systems.
As Chair of the NG911 Commission, I have spent years collaborating with experts to upgrade us to “Next Generation 9-1-1.” Last year, we enacted three laws that earned national recognition for their comprehensive attention to funding, staffing, cybersecurity, and oversight. I’m delighted to report that we passed most of this year’s agenda. Some of what we accomplished includes:
- Investing in our heroic “First First Responders” (9-1-1 Specialists) with wellness services to address the emotional impact of regular exposure to trauma;
- Authorizing independent audits to ensure that 9-1-1 fees are accurately remitted;
- Requiring transparency of the 9-1-1 Board through live-streaming and posted minutes; and
- Creating a statewide Telecommunicator Emergency Response Team that is specially trained for natural disasters or other crises.
You can learn more about my Omnibus 9-1-1 legislation from a recent interview on Maryland Public Television’s “State Circle.”
* * * * * * * *
Issuing Executive Orders
Governor Hogan released a number of Executive Orders to slow the spread of the virus:
- Shutting down all public schools from March 16-27, during which time they will be cleaned and sanitized;
- Closing restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, etc. on March 16 (carry-out food is still permitted);
- Postponing the April 28 Primary Election to June 2; (You can request your absentee ballot online now!);
- Advising hospitals to adopt procedures that limit visitors;
- Giving licensed health professionals from another state the authority to practice in Maryland;
- Prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people;
- Mandating that non-essential State employees telework;
- Forcing all phone, cable, and other utility companies to waive late fees;
- Forbidding the eviction of renters during the quarantine;
- Using Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program sites for drive-thru testing when kits become available;
- Reducing public transit schedules and applying cashless tolling;
- Limiting cruise ship operations at the Port of Baltimore;
- Activating the National Guard to carry out necessary emergency functions;
- Ceasing all visitation at correctional facilities; and
- Continuing to operate under a State of Emergency.
It is essential that we each do our part to keep ourselves and others healthy!
Expanding Health Care Access
With COVID-19 dominating the news, we’ve heard a great deal about “telehealth.” This system uses technology to provide medical care while protecting both providers and patients from possible exposure. My emergency bill, SB402, which passed in the final hours of the legislative session, creates a framework for telehealth across the state. It authorizes and expands this option that’s especially valuable for those in rural and underserved areas. It eliminates the need to find child care, transportation, or take time off from a job paying hourly wages. Most urgent now, telehealth will expand access to care during our current time of need.
Safeguarding our Elections
In the midst of this public health crisis, we have both a Primary and General Election rapidly approaching. It is clear that traditional polling places are not a safe option at this time. To keep voters safe, Maryland’s primary election has been postponed until June. (The special election that will choose a successor for my friend Congressman Elijah Cummings will be conducted by mail in April.) I was thrilled that my bill to mandate postage-paid absentee ballots was incorporated into another election bill and passed unanimously in the Senate. Assuming that the Governor signs this Emergency Bill, voters will be able to cast their ballots at no cost and without having to leave their homes.
Partnering with a Public Service Champion
Many have sacrificed over the past 70 days in order to serve our constituents– but perhaps no one more than my Committee Chair, Senator Paul Pinsky. He led the charge on the crucial Kirwan education bill, before rushing home to be with his wife just before she died. His dedication to public service and all Marylanders is truly an inspiration. As Vice Chair of the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, I was proud to step in during his absence to ensure that we continued hearings and voting sessions on key legislation before adjournment.
Engaging in the Census
The 2020 Census questionnaire is now available online. It only takes 10 minutes to respond to the Census, and the results are tied to representation and the allocation of resource for the next ten years. PLEASE complete the form by April 1 to ensure that we are accurately counted and properly represented.
Like many of you, my staff and I will be teleworking in the upcoming weeks. You can stay connected by following me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for photos and posts. Please check my website for information about internships, Senatorial Scholarships, and updates on the Coronavirus. And, you can send questions or comments to me via email.
Cheryl C. Kagan
State Senator, District 17
(Gaithersburg & Rockville)
PS: It can be difficult to find trusted information about the Coronavirus pandemic. I have compiled a list of resources that might be informative and helpful, including some activities for children who are stuck at home!