Session Update -February 1, 2021

Legislation

 

 

 

The 2021 legislative session is now well underway.  My colleagues in the General Assembly and I are working full tilt to respond to the current crisis and to continue making progress on the broader challenges we face here in Maryland.  Although we can’t be in Annapolis together, I want to make sure you know what’s going on as we conduct the “people’s business.”

In the last two weeks, hearings have been held on the following bills I have sponsored:

  • HB 298 will require the Public Service Commission to consider climate change and labor standards in all of their decision-making processes. You can see the hearing here.
  • HB 40 will require an analysis of how to increase the deployment of renewable geothermal energy in Maryland, ensure geothermal investment benefits low-income individuals, and promotes jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits in the geothermal industry. You can see the hearing here.
  • HB 264 prevents large generators of organic waste from disposing of that waste in a landfill or incinerator, if there is an organics recycling facility within 30 miles. This bill will increase food recovery and donation, as well as build out the compost infrastructure in the state.
  • HB 80 requires the replacement of trees in communities affected by Purple Line construction, with priority given to communities suffering from heat island effects. You can watch the hearing here.

This week the House will hold hearings for several other of the bills I am sponsoring:

  • HB 108 will improve mobile crisis units by ensuring they are designed to reduce interaction between law enforcement and people suffering from a mental health crisis and that they respond to crises with greater cultural competence. The bill also increases funding for mobile crisis units through a grant program available to local governments. The hearing on the bill will be on Tuesday, Feb. 2nd, in the Health and Government Operations Committee.
  • HB 379 Prioritizes investment in and establishes standards for energy efficiency improvements for low-income households. Energy efficiency is a crucial piece of reducing emissions and mitigating climate change. This bill ensures that our energy efficiency investment prioritizes Marylanders who struggle the most to pay their energy bills. These efficiency upgrades also improve indoor air quality for families that are also more likely to have chronic health issues, due to environmental health conditions. The hearing on the bill will be on Thursday, Feb. 4th, in the Economic Matters Committee.


Food Insecurity

Food insecurity and hunger have grown exponentially during this pandemic. The Washington Post recently reported on the issue and spotlighted the work of the Shepherds of Zion, a local nonprofit running a food distribution site in District 20.  I have volunteered at this site several times and believe the deeply moving photos and videos included in the piece give a sense of the scale and urgency of the problem far too many people in our communities face.

Volunteer efforts are vital.  So, too, are legislative actions and broader policy initiatives.  I have introduced several bills specifically related to food insecurity. My “Heat and Eat” bill will increase SNAP payments for many families. The Food Resiliency Council will better coordinate emergency food security needs and build a more just and equitable food system for the long term.

Of course, improving people’s financial situations and ensuring a just economy with jobs that pay family sustaining wages addresses food insecurity head on.  My Unemployment Insurance reform bill seeks to improve the Department of Labor’s processes to ensure all Marylanders receive their benefits in a timely fashion and in a user-friendly way that also connects people to other important services such as health care insurance. Similarly, my legislation related to the Public Service Commission (HB 298) and to growing geothermal in the state (HB 40) are designed to ensure we create jobs with good wages and benefits in the emerging green economy.

Vaccines

The Maryland Department of Health is responsible for distributing Maryland’s share of the COVID-19 vaccine across the state and has designed the process to distribute through a combination of county health departments, hospitals, and private pharmacies. Locally, the Montgomery County Health Department coordinates the vaccines distributed directly to the County.  Montgomery County is also trying to coordinate with local hospitals and private pharmacies, but does not control their distribution.

I share many of your concerns that too many high-risk residents don’t know where to turn to get a vaccine and that distribution is not happening nearly as quickly or efficiently as it needs to in order to end this pandemic. I am particularly concerned that the current plan does not ensure equity, especially with a virus disproportionately ravaging Communities of Color. I am also concerned by the significant role of private pharmacies in this process, with little accountability and despite the fact that county health departments across the state have demonstrated their ability to distribute vaccines quickly and equitably.

While these distribution decisions are made by Governor Hogan’s Health Department, the General Assembly is seeking to use our oversight role to address this situation. The House Health and Government Operations Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, February 2nd, on the topic. You can see the letter sent to the Acting Secretary of Health here . You can find the latest set of data I have received from the Maryland Department of Health here. My colleagues and I will continue advocating for a more efficient, equitable, and transparent process.

Maryland is currently vaccinating people in Phase 1A (hospitals and nursing homes staff and residents), 1B (for 75 and older and frontline essential workers) or 1C (for 65 and older, individuals with high risk medical conditions, and essential workers), although not everyone in 1B and 1C is guaranteed to get a vaccine at this time because of limited vaccine supplies. In Montgomery County, people in 1C are not currently being vaccinated.  You can find out more about the process and sign up to be notified of available appointments here. Individuals in phase 1B and 1C can pre-register to be notified of appointments when they become available. You can also call 240-777-2982. You also may be able to find hospitals and private pharmacies offering the vaccine through this state website.

As always, if you or someone you know, needs assistance, please do not hesitate to contact my office at lorig.charkoudian@house.state.md.us.

Onward,

Lorig Charkoudian

 

 

 

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