Due to the surge of COVID cases in the County, the Chamber decided to hold the Legislative Breakfast via Zoom format. We had 87 people attend the virtual breakfast to hear about the upcoming Legislative session. Given the dynamic nature of the COVID surge, we added a special COVID update from County Executive Pittman and Sherry Perkins, President of the Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center. We also had Senators Elfreth and Reilly along with Delegates Rogers and Kipke provide comments about the upcoming session of the General Assembly which starts next week.
The County Executive outlined the challenges that the government had to face over the last year and highlighted the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID over the last four weeks. As the positivity rate skyrocketed, he explained the new challenges it has placed for County services and on the health care system. He also talked about the need to wear masks and how he is hoping County Council will extend the current mask requirement. He discussed the need to avoid additional restrictions and is hopeful that with added precautions, no further restrictions will be needed. The County Executive also shared information about additional testing sites and the arrival of more testing kits.
From the perspective of a healthcare provider, Sherry Perkins said that she is very optimistic about the path forward due to the partnerships that have been established with local governments and the business community. But she also stated she is very cautious about the spread of the latest COVID-19 variant since it has proven to be highly contagious. She noted that last month the hospital had 28 active COVID cases and today in less than 30 days they are 128 cases. This rate increase has put a strain on hospital staff. She pointed out that 2/3 of all the cases are non-vaccinated people. She had a particular “ask” for everyone to get vaccinated and boosted while taking other measures to avoid the spread and help take the strain off the health care system.
Senator Sarah Elfreth kicked off the discussion about the General Assembly issues by recapping some of the activity that had occurred over the last year, including the recent flood and tornado. Looking forward to the upcoming session, she talked about legislation dealing with recreational cannabis and how she thought it might move to referendum for the upcoming November election. She also talked about the strong fiscal condition for the state as Maryland has moved from a structural budget deficit to a structural budget surplus. This was due to increased tax revenues from high income earners, increased on-line sales and the influx of federal stimulus money.
Senator Ed Reilly from the 33rd district was up next and talked about his concerns about the redistricting for Congressional districts in Maryland and his belief that the current set of maps are going to be reviewed by the courts and could take some time before they are finalized. He also talked about redistricting maps for the 188 members of the General Assembly and that there was potentially, some significant movement of voters that he felt were not in the best interest of the general public. He also shared his concerns about the legalization of recreational cannabis and what it might do in terms of its impact to younger folks.
Delegate Mike Rogers started the conversation from the House side by discussing the social and emotional impact of the pandemic and how the public, businesses and government have to be flexible to respond to these conditions. He cited the use of technology as an import tool to help us through the pandemic but there is a need for bring people safely back together. He mentioned that the pandemic showed us the need to be flexible in terms of operating a business and that General Assembly will work to support businesses and protect public health as we move forward.
Our final speaker was representative Nic Kipke from District 31B. Delegate Kipke spoke about the impact the November election might have on the upcoming session. He shared his concerns about increasing crime not only in Baltimore City but in other parts of Anne Arundel County. He stressed the need for more transparency in the judicial system particularly during the sentencing phase of a case. Education was also a concern for Delegate Kipke as he voiced his thoughts about making school choice more available and that Maryland is lacking behind other states in terms of the diversity of educational options.
During the question-and-answer period. the four panelists discussed the fiscal condition of the economy and highlighted reasons as to why the state has moved from a structural deficit to a structural surplus. It was noted that the Federal Funds may only cover the short-term cost for new programs and the State needs to be cautious about making these expenditures permanent.
There was also a discussion about the legalization of cannabis as a recreational item and the impact it may have on businesses. The Chamber shared its concerns that the additional legalization of cannabis will cause additional stress for employers and that any future legislation needs to take this into account as it the related employment laws. The final topic of discussion centered around accountability in schools and the need to improve the quality of education for all Maryland students.
The meeting concluded with the Chamber extending its thanks to the County Executive and Sherry Perkins for providing a very comprehensive update concerning the COVID situation. In addition, we are very thankful to our four members of the General Assembly for their time and sharing their thoughts as we move forward into the Legislative session.
Click Here to watch the recording on YouTube.