House GOP Urges Regional Approach to Reopening the State

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) with Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) at a State House news conference earlier this year. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Republican Members of the House of Delegates on Saturday urged Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to adopt a regional approach to reopening the state’s economy.

In a memo obtained by Maryland Matters, GOP lawmakers applauded Hogan for his leadership in handling the COVID-19 crisis to date — but they urged that he relax restrictions on businesses and certain recreational activities in certain parts of the state.

“We fundamentally believe that what works in one region of the state may not be applicable to others,” the GOP lawmakers wrote.

“For that reason we would urge a regional approach to loosening the restrictions on businesses. While a one-size-fits-all approach may work in some instances, the industries, geography, and clearly infection and hospitalization rates differ greatly in the various areas of the state; particularly the western-most counties, the Eastern Shore, and Southern Maryland.”

The lawmakers expressed a concern that some small businesses would close for good if they’re not able to reopen with the next month. And they said Hogan’s order that customers wear masks while inside stores and while riding mass transit offered a way for “small retail and service-based businesses, which have a limited amount of contact with the public” to reopen safely.

“Many restaurants are looking at the possibility of permanent closure, and industry experts predicting a closure rate of 25-30% if dining rooms are not open by mid-May,” the lawmakers wrote in their memo.

“There are many restaurants in Maryland that have open air seating and could reopen utilizing those outside areas. This option would have to contain strict social distancing guideline, spacing indoor tables at least six feet apart, requires staff and servers to wear gloves and masks, and enhances sanitation measures among other CDC guidelines.”

As part of a call for “checks and balances” on the powers given to local health officers, the lawmakers asked Hogan to consider revising an executive order he issued on April 2 (Executive Order 20-04-05-02) to create local review boards to evaluate health department recommendations.

Doing so, they wrote, would serve “not only as a check but also to provide the business with a path to reopen.”

“Many decisions affecting the livelihoods of hundreds and thousands appear to sometimes be made unilaterally and inconsistently,” GOP lawmakers added.

The lawmakers urged Hogan to lift the ban on “recreational boating and other outdoor activities such as horseback riding at state parks, as well as reopening golf courses.”

“These activities, much like hiking or jogging, can be accomplished following strict social-distancing guidelines and/or be limited to people within an immediate household,” the letter said.

“Relaxing these restrictions will provide many of our citizens with a safe opportunity to get out of the house and participate in a healthy activity, while maintaining responsible social distancing practices.”

The GOP delegates also asked Hogan to make more health data available to the public, including a county-by-county breakdown of hospitalization numbers and ICU utilization rates. And they requested that the governor make public “the modeling that is being used to forecast spread.”

Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said the governor spoke to House and Senate Republicans by phone Friday in conversations that totaled about 75 minutes, and believes he and the lawmakers are basically in accord.

“We’re all on the same page: we want to get Maryland open again as soon as it is safe,” Ricci said. “We appreciate these ideas, and will continue coordinating with legislators as the governor prepares to unveil the state’s roadmap to recovery.”

[email protected] 

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.