General Assembly | WYPR

General Assembly

Rachel Baye / WYPR


More than half a million Maryland residents have filed for unemployment insurance since March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state is still working through a backlog of about 34,000 of those applicants whose claims have not been processed.

 

During a Zoom meeting Wednesday, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson told state lawmakers that the state has so far sent $2.7 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 400,000 residents. But she said Labor Department staff members are still reviewing applications received in May and the first half of June.

Mary Rose Madden / WYPR


House Speaker Adrienne Jones and all 98 Democratic members of the Maryland House of Delegates called on Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday to sign an executive order that would make several policing tactics illegal in the 18 law enforcement agencies under the state’s control. 

Rachel Baye / WYPR

  

The state government employees who process unemployment insurance claims and work in state prisons, juvenile services facilities, hospitals and universities say they lack the resources necessary to do their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

The workers spoke Tuesday at a virtual meeting of the state House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.

Emily Sullivan / WYPR

As the country approaches the end of a second week of protests over police abuse of black Americans, state and local leaders in Maryland are calling for reforms, including changes to state laws governing police. Many of the proposed changes have been attempted before unsuccessfully, but some lawmakers say this time is different.

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Leaders in the Maryland House of Delegates are forming a workgroup that aims to improve trust and accountability in police statewide. The announcement this weekend came a few hours before hundreds in Baltimore joined nationwide protests of abuses by police.

“Policing in America is broken,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones in a statement announcing the new workgroup. “As the mother of two sons, accountability in policing is not just philosophical, it is personal.”

The Governor's Office


As Maryland officials raced to meet the state’s urgent need for medical supplies over the last two months, two deals gained national attention:  The governor’s procurement of 500,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea and a $12.5-million contract for ventilators and masks from a company started by two Republican fundraisers.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers grilled an official in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration over whether the tests from South Korea are actually being used. They questioned whether officials have been too quick to approve these deals.

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

Stores in Baltimore City are closed. In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, retail is open for curbside pickup and delivery. In Harford and Carroll counties, customers can actually go inside stores.

When Gov. Larry Hogan replaced his stay-at-home order with a “Safer at Home” advisory and lifted some other statewide restrictions last week, he said what’s considered safe will necessarily vary county by county. He pointed to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which together account for more than half of the state’s COVID-19 cases. He left it up to local officials to decide how to move forward into the first phase of his recovery plan. 

 

The result is a patchwork of rules that change as you cross county lines. Some county health officers told state lawmakers on Wednesday that the variation forces them into a defensive position as they explain their choices to confused residents. 

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Maryland’s unemployment insurance system has been plagued by problems for weeks. For more than nine hours on Tuesday, dozens of residents took turns sharing their experiences navigating the system with members of two state Senate committees.

Residents described spending entire days on hold with state call centers and sending repeated emails, trying to reach a Department of Labor staff member who might be able to help. They said claims are rejected without reason, and benefits that were approved suddenly stop coming.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Gov. Larry Hogan has vetoed more than three dozen bills the General Assembly passed during this year’s abbreviated session. The rejected bills include a massive school system overhaul; funding for Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities; and a bill closing a background check loophole for long guns.

Nathan Sterner and Rachel Baye talk about some of the vetoes.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


Angel Lopez lost his job as a mechanic in Baltimore when business slowed due to the coronavirus  pandemic. Then his partner lost her part-time job cleaning houses. 

 

Lopez is undocumented, and his partner’s application for asylum is on hold while the courts are closed. As a result, they don’t qualify for unemployment, federal stimulus money, or Baltimore’s small existing rental assistance program.

During an interview in mid-April, Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he would pay for May’s rent. He said he was considering selling his car.

Rachel Baye

Maryland officials announced on Friday that they are expecting a $2.8-billion drop in revenues for the three months that end June 30. In response, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a state budget and hiring freeze.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


The leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates are pushing back on calls to require that all voters in the June primary election submit their ballots by mail. Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones lodged their concerns in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday.

Rachel Baye/WYPR


 The Maryland General Assembly adjourned its annual 90-day legislative session on Wednesday, 19 days early as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time since the Civil War that the legislature cut its time in Annapolis short.

Patrick Semansky / AP


  As state lawmakers hurdle toward an early end to the legislative session, lawmakers passed two bills on Tuesday that aim to help Baltimore with its crime-fighting efforts.

Rachel Baye


The state Senate passed two changes to the sales tax on Tuesday night. One of the bills extends the sales tax to digital products, such as e-books and streaming services. The other raises taxes on tobacco products.

Rachel Baye

A sweeping overhaul of Maryland’s public school system is one step closer to fruition after the state Senate passed it Monday night. The changes came out of what’s known as the Kirwan Commission, a state panel that spent three years developing recommendations for making Maryland’s schools globally competitive.

Rachel Baye

The state Senate voted Monday to pass a bill that aims to provide some relief to residents from some of the effects of the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Joel McCord

For the first time since the Civil War, Maryland’s General Assembly is going home early. Legislative leaders announced Sunday they are ending the session March 18 because of increasing threats of the novel coronavirus.

In an afternoon news conference Senate President Bill Ferguson said the threat of the virus has become critical.

Rachel Baye/WYPR

  Gov. Larry Hogan has announced several drastic actions aimed at mitigating what experts say is the inevitable spread of the novel Coronavirus in Maryland. Among these, the state is closing public schools for two weeks, activating the National Guard, and closing the Port of Baltimore to cruise ships.

 

The measures were prompted by the news that Maryland has its first confirmed case of community-transmitted COVID-19, the disease caused by the new Coronavirus. The infected person, a Prince George’s County resident, has no known exposure to the virus through travel or another infected person.

Rachel Baye

A landmark state education reform bill cleared a key hurdle Wednesday night as it passed out of two Senate committees.

The bill reflects the recommendations of what’s known as the Kirwan Commission, a state panel that spent three years studying how to make Maryland’s schools globally competitive.

But on Wednesday, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee added what one member called an “escape hatch” that could reverse the changes after five years.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

State lawmakers are considering applying the state’s 6% sales tax to digital products, such as e-books and streaming services. The House is expected to hold an initial vote on the bill Wednesday.

The bill’s sponsors say it isn’t a new tax. Rather, they say they are attempting to modernize the existing sales tax to be more fair to sellers of tangible and digital goods alike.

Rachel Baye

The House voted Tuesday to pass a bill barring landlords and anyone selling a home from discriminating against a prospective tenant or buyer based on their source of income.

The Senate already passed the bill last month. The bill passed both chambers mostly along party lines but with veto-proof majorities.

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan has created a Coronavirus response team, made up of public health and emergency management experts, he announced at a press conference Monday. The group will meet for the first time Tuesday.

MD GovPics/Jay Baker

Lawmakers couldn’t agree last year on how to keep the Preakness Stakes horse race from leaving Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore. But on Friday, the state Senate approved a new plan nearly unanimously and without debate.

Rachel Baye

The farm in Delmar where April Ferrell grew up and still lives is surrounded by chicken farms. 

Sitting on a golf cart in her yard, Ferrell indicated the lot next door, where she said her parents built two small chicken houses in the 1980s. Then she pointed in the other direction, across the street, where four newer, 600-foot-long chicken houses were visible.

According to data from the Maryland Department of the Environment, that farm across the street — what’s known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO — has about 47,000 chickens at a time. 

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A 13-year-old boy in the custody of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital in September 2018. About two weeks later, an administrative law judge ruled that there was no medical reason for him to stay there. But Social Services didn’t pick him up for nearly four more months.

A similar thing happened to a 14-year-old boy in the custody of the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services in October 2018 and to a 14-year-old girl in the custody of the Baltimore County Department of Social Services in January 2019, according to data provided by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, which represents children in this situation,

And there are dozens more children in Maryland’s foster care system with similar stories. They spend weeks, sometimes months, in psychiatric hospitals after doctors and even judges say they no longer need to be there because local Department of Social Services, or DSS, workers say they have nowhere else for them to go.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File

A plan to redevelop the historic Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore and Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County is making its way through the General Assembly. One of the main objectives of the plan is to keep the nearly 150-year-old Preakness Stakes horse race in Baltimore.

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan spent much of this week attacking the Democrat-led General Assembly for not advancing his bills aimed at reducing crime in Baltimore. On Thursday, Democratic leaders fought back.

Hogan’s latest comments came during a press conference Thursday. He accused legislators of ignoring a “crisis” in Baltimore by not voting his crime package out of committee.

Rachel Baye

State lawmakers have proposed a new sales tax on professional services as a way to pay for the Kirwan Commission’s recommended school system overhaul.

Under the bill introduced Thursday, services ranging from lawyers to contractors to haircuts would be taxed at 5%. The existing sales tax on tangible goods would be cut from 6% to 5%.

Rachel Baye

State lawmakers began work Monday on a highly anticipated package of sweeping education reforms that reflects recommendations by the Kirwan Commission. Hundreds of teachers, activists and local government officials came to Annapolis to testify or show their support for the bill.

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