Speaking just hours before the General Assembly is set to convene, Gov. Larry Hogan urged lawmakers Wednesday morning to pass as soon as possible his proposed $1 billion Relief Act for Maryland businesses and residents hardest hit by the pandemic-spurred economic freefall.
“I’d like to see them bring it right to the floor,” Hogan said at The Daily Record’s Eye on Annapolis Summit. “We cannot wait until February.”
However, the leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates said at the summit that such early action might not be possible because they have yet to see the governor-sponsored legislation.
But Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said pandemic relief is the legislature’s top priority.
“The Senate will act very quickly,” Ferguson said. The Baltimore Democrat added that fixing the “broken unemployment system” and ensuring the timely delivery of insurance payments to those out of work is critical, as the goal is to “make 2021 the year of rebuilding and recovery.”
Jones said the House will consider relief legislation with deliberate speed but will not dawdle.
“We want to make sure that we get it right,” said Jones, D-Baltimore County. “We don’t want to rush into it.”
Hogan said passage of the Relief Act and the annual budget, to be introduced next week, are his chief priorities for the 90-day General Assembly session. Hogan, a Republican, discussed these issues at the summit that was held virtually Wednesday morning.
“I’d call it a huge success and call it a day” if those were the only bills the legislature passes, Hogan said. “The only thing that we’re focused on is the economic health and the actual health of the 6 million people of Maryland.”
Hogan also voiced concern with the current lack of sufficient vaccine dosages in Maryland, saying the state needs 12 million vials and has just 400,000. The governor said he has been in contact with Vice President Mike Pence and his COVID-19 task force, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and President-Elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board about the need for additional vials.
Hogan urged lawmakers to act deliberately regarding legislation calling for police reform and efforts to reduce funding for law enforcement.
“(That’s) the one place where I draw the line,” Hogan said. “The one thing we cannot do is defund the police.”
Ferguson, the Senate president, said the goal of any police reform legislation will be to increase “real trust, accountability in law enforcement in the communities that they serve.”
The legislative leaders voiced confidence in the safety at the State House in light of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building by supporters of President Donald Trump.
“It is unbelievable and outrageous that we even have to have this conversation,” Ferguson said. “We will hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Citing Maryland police preparedness, Ferguson said that individuals contemplating an attack on the State House “would regret it.”
Added Jones: “We are very confident our members will be safe.”
Ferguson and Jones said they are cautiously optimistic that the 90-day session will proceed unimpeded by a COVID-19 outbreak on the State House grounds. Such a public health emergency would necessitate a break or an early adjournment of the General Assembly, as occurred last year when the session was cut 19 days short in an effort to stanch the viral spread.
“Our intentions are one thing but we are going to be flexible,” Ferguson said.
Jones said a surge in COVID-19 cases is possible despite the strongest efforts to stop the spread.
“If there is a surge, we would have to act accordingly,” she added.
At the close of his time at the Summit, Hogan announced that he was scheduled to undergo surgery Friday to remove cancerous cells from his face and shoulder. Both Ferguson and Jones said they were not told of the governor’s health issue prior to his announcement on Wednesday. Hogan said he does not expect to need further treatment than what he described as “minor surgery.”