Hogan, Lawmakers Hail Bipartisanship as COVID Relief Package Clears Senate

The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Just minutes after the state Senate unanimously passed a $1.5 billion COVID-19 relief bill on Friday afternoon, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) issued a news release with the heading “Bipartisanship Alert: The RELIEF Act of 2021.” It came accompanied with a picture of Hogan, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), all wearing masks, and a kind of pyrotechnic celebratory effect.

“I want to thank the Senate for their swift and unanimous passage of the RELIEF Act, which will provide immediate tax relief and economic stimulus for struggling Maryland families, small businesses, and those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” Hogan said in a statement. “This is what effective and bipartisan leadership looks like.”

It was a bipartisan effort, all right: Lawmakers from both parties attested to this on the Senate floor.

“I want to thank the Democrat Party,” Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) told his colleagues, for responding to GOP concerns as the bill’s final touches were being put in place.

“Between the governor’s proposal and our proposal, we have a very good package here,” said Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), the vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

There was cooperation among the senators, but between the Democrats who lead the Senate and the Republican governor, not so much. The budget and tax committee took Hogan’s bill, which called for about $1 billion in spending to help struggling Maryland businesses and families, and added several provisions to it totaling about $520 million ― without ever formally conferring with anyone in the administration.

“I don’t know if they were in the dark, but it was not anything we consulted about,” Budget and Taxation Chairman Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) said in an interview Friday.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on Hogan’s unadorned bill on Thursday. House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who serves on the panel, hinted earlier in the week that the House may focus a little more closely on aiding middle class families and small businesses as it works its version of the bill.

“I have great faith in the House to adjust the bill,” Ferguson told reporters Friday.

As soon as he unveiled his COVID relief proposal shortly before the General Assembly session began in mid-January, Hogan suggested that lawmakers pass it right away.

“Now I urge the House to follow suit in short order,” he said in his statement Friday. “With so many fighting just to hang on in this unprecedented crisis, Marylanders simply cannot afford to wait. Every day that goes by without passing this emergency legislation means more struggling families and small businesses will suffer. This must continue to be the most important priority of the legislative session.”

Hogan returned to the theme of bipartisanship.

“Let’s once again show the rest of the nation how to put aside partisan politics and work together by delivering this vital relief at an urgent and historic pace,” he said.

HBCU funding bill gets unanimous support

The Senate on Friday also unanimously passed a measure that would send an extra $577 million to the state’s historically Black colleges and universities over the next decade.

Hogan had vetoed a near-identical funding measure last year, arguing that the state could not afford it due to the economic uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is designed to settle a years-long lawsuit by HBCU supporters who accuse the Maryland government of shortchanging and undercutting the four historically black campuses in the state.

The bill is also on the fast track in the House, where it is sponsored by Jones and was voted out of the Appropriations Committee on Friday. The House is scheduled to have its first substantive floor sessions of the session next week.

Ferguson on Friday sidestepped a question about whether early legislative action on the HBCU bill would enable the legislature to override a potential Hogan veto of the measure before the session ends, but expressed confidence that the bill would become law this year.

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.