2021 Maryland General Assembly Update Week Four: State of the State, Election Integrity, Shore Virtual Visitors, and Fighting for Small Businesses
This week’s highlights included passing Governor Larry Hogan’s Emergency COVID-19 RELIEF Act to help those hardest-hit by the coronavirus, and legislation directly benefiting the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Both pieces of legislation were cosponsored by Senator Mary Beth Carozza. Governor Hogan also delivered his seventh State of the State Address on February 3rd, and the Senate Republican Caucus introduced election integrity legislation. Senator Carozza virtually met with constituents and spoke out against legislation that was harmful to small businesses.
SENATE PASSES SHORE PRIORITIES
The Senate of Maryland unanimously passed Senate Bill 496— Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families (RELIEF) Act on Friday, February 5. The RELIEF Act is an emergency stimulus and tax relief package intended to provide over $1 billion for Marylanders and small businesses.
“Passing this emergency COVID-19 relief and stimulus package now to assist struggling Maryland families and small businesses should be the top priority of every member of the Maryland General Assembly,” Senator Carozza stated. “I am completely committed to working with the Governor and members of the legislature from both sides of the political aisle to fast track this emergency legislation, and move these needed funds to those who have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Now that the Senate has unanimously approved the emergency COVID-19 assistance package, I call on the House of Delegates to act now on this much-needed relief so it can go into immediate effect.”
Also passed on Friday was Senate Bill 1— Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Funding. This legislation would benefit the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a key institution and economic driver in Somerset County.
STATE OF THE STATE
On Wednesday, February 3, Governor Hogan delivered his seventh State of the State Address where he outlined the challenges facing Marylanders.
“Governor Hogan gave a positive speech and candid assessment of the challenges facing the State of Maryland as we work through COVID-19 Recovery. I agree that students should be returning safely back to the classrooms now, and we all know the urgency of increasing the supply of vaccines across the State of Maryland,” Senator Carozza noted.
“One specific part of the Governor’s speech that really caught my attention was the need for not just short-term COVID-19 relief but the need for a strong, long-lasting economic recovery. That means not raising taxes and not adding more burdensome regulations on our struggling small businesses. That means providing incentives to keep our retirees here in Maryland with a tax cut for every single retired Marylander so they don’t move to other tax-friendly states.”
“We also heard the need for patience with the full-court effort to increase the production and supply of vaccines so every Marylander who wants the vaccine can receive it. It means all of us working together at every level government, private and public sector, to reach this goal as soon as possible. I believe the bottom line with the Governor’s State of the State is that we need to keep our focus so we can recover from COVID-19 and stay Maryland Strong,” said Senator Mary Beth Carozza.
SENATE GOP ANNOUNCES ELECTION INTEGRITY INITIATIVES
Members of the Maryland Senate Republican Caucus presented a legislative package that would ensure Maryland’s election integrity and help restore the public’s confidence for future elections.
“We support and encourage every Marylander to exercise their right to vote, but before we consider expanding mail-in voting programs and making pandemic-year measures permanent through legislation, we must also put in the appropriate safeguards,” Senator Carozza said, noting that she is a member of the Senate standing committee that has oversight over election matters. “Expanding voter access and protecting the integrity of our elections are intricately intertwined and are not mutually exclusive issues.”
The package includes legislation that would require voters to present identification at the polls to verify their name and mailing address; legislation cracking down on possible ballot harvesting; legislation increasing penalties for those convicted of voter fraud, voter intimidation, voter suppression, and voter impersonation; and legislation that creates more privacy and tracking for mail-in ballots.
CAROZZA SPEAKS OUT AGAINST ANTI-SMALL BUSINESS LEGISLATION
The Maryland General Assembly will be considering House Bill 581/Senate Bill 486— Maryland Essential Workers' Protection Act, which would create new burdensome regulations and mandates on small businesses. Numerous small business operators, local chambers of commerce, and constituents have contacted Senator Mary Beth Carozza in opposition to this bill.
“I have continued to work with hundreds of small businesses, Shore chambers of commerce, and the Hogan Administration to provide relief to those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senator Carozza said. “At a time of great economic uncertainty and as we navigate the reopening phases, we in the Maryland General Assembly should be focused on moving the Governor’s Emergency COVID-19 RELIEF Act of 2021, not on imposing new burdensome regulations on our small businesses.
Carozza opposes House Bill 581/Senate Bill 486 and has raised concerns about specific components of the 20-page legislation, including back-dating an additional $3 per hour in hazard pay, establishing a leave program without an employee proving that they contracted said illness at the workplace, and allowing employees the right to refuse work without verification.
Senator Carozza also noted that nearly every type of employer in Maryland could fall under the scope of this legislation, regardless of the risks associated with their work. Carozza is in contact with her colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee regarding this legislation and is sharing the concerns she is receiving from her constituents with key Senate leaders.
“Reopening our businesses safely and ensuring the employees remain in good health remains a shared goal. However, the language in House Bill 581/Senate Bill 486 is extremely broad and goes beyond the scope of the current public health crisis brought on by COVID-19. We should be providing more relief to our small businesses, not adding regulations and financial burdens,” Senator Carozza added.
SESSION STAPLES CONTINUE IN NEW NORMAL
Two key events held during legislative sessions continued with all COVID-19 protocols in place: the Taste of Maryland Agriculture reception and the Maryland March for Life.
At the 51st Taste of Maryland Agriculture, Maryland farm families were recognized in a virtual celebration, along with the state’s agricultural industry as a whole. The Maryland March for Life held a peaceful gathering of life advocates on the newly-renovated Lawyer’s Mall in front of the Maryland State House.
PHARMACY ADVOCATES VIRTUALLY VISIT ANNAPOLIS
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed restrictions on how constituents and advocates can interact with lawmakers during the session. Many groups, such as the Maryland Pharmacy Coalition, hosted their annual advocacy day on Tuesday, February 2. Senator Carozza met with pharmacy students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“One of my favorite days during session is student pharmacy advocacy day. Several students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore outlined their legislative priorities of allowing pharmacists to administer injectable medications, which would especially help those living in rural communities,” Senator Carozza said. “I look forward to visiting these students on campus in April for the groundbreaking of the new UMES Pharmacy and Health Professions Building.”
WORCESTER PAGE RECOGNIZED IN SENATE
The Maryland General Assembly Student Page program is virtual for the 2021 legislative session to keep the participating students safe and healthy. Senate Pages are responsible for providing vital services to the legislature and have the opportunity to work directly with elected officials on the chamber floors. This week, Eric Cropper, a senior at Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, served as a Senate Page.