Yvette Lewis: In an Unusual Year, Democrats Still Delivered Results

Photo by Angela Breck.

It’s been an unusual, difficult year for all of us. But despite the atypical times, this year’s legislative session went as it usually does, with Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes to deliver results for our state.

The unusual year compounded high expectations coming into the 2021 session; Maryland faced intertwined economic, public health and racial justice crises that required immediate action.

Democrats not only met these expectations, they exceeded them — passing criminal justice and policing reforms, increased education funding, COVID-19 economic relief, a voting rights expansion and more.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson deserve immense credit for their masterful and tireless leadership of the chambers and their caucuses, and all of our Democratic members have the deepest appreciation from myself, the Democratic Party and the millions of Marylanders who will benefit from the legislation they passed.

Our Democratic leaders wasted no time in picking up where they left off in 2020, overriding 38 of Gov. Hogan’s previous session vetoes. These were important bills that supported local farmers, assisted elder Marylanders, promoted small businesses and job creation, expanded transportation services and lowered the cost of prescription drugs.

Perhaps the most significant of all these veto overrides was the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the landmark education funding bill that will invest billions into Maryland’s schools and our children’s futures. Later in the session, as we saw the challenges of learning in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect of the Blueprint’s delayed implementation, Democrats expanded on this legislation, in a bipartisan manner passing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future 2.0 which funds expanded tutoring and summer school for students who fell behind and increases educational technology to prevent disparities in remote learning.

Democrats continued their investment in our children’s futures by passing significant legislation to address the climate crisis. They supported clean energies, began converting Maryland to zero-emission public transit buses and committed our state to planting five million new trees.

While the American Rescue Plan was making its way through Congress — overcoming Republican opposition and stall tactics — the Maryland General Assembly passed the RELIEF Act, which sent direct payments to Marylanders who needed it and provided critical relief to struggling small businesses.

Nearly 40,000 Marylanders who were stuck in the Hogan administration’s unemployment insurance purgatory received immediate $1,000 payments — and $279 million is being distributed to small businesses, including $17 million that has already gone to restaurants.

As the COVID-19 pandemic devastated our nation’s health, livelihoods and economy, it also exposed our country’s deeply seeded racial inequities. The General Assembly made significant leaps toward reducing inequality and took on the tough reality of systemic racism in America.

This landmark legislation included HB1/SB1 which allocated $500 million in funding for Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Speaker Jones’ comprehensive “Black Agenda,” that addressed health equity, the racial wealth gap, and created a foundation for long-term prosperity and equity.

Just as important were generational criminal justice and policing reforms, which will improve trust, accountability and transparency. The comprehensive reforms — vetoed by Gov. Hogan and then overridden by Democrats — will curb the improper use of police force, require body cameras on all police officers, allow misconduct allegations to be publicly accessible and ensure that warrants aren’t executed recklessly. The legislation made Maryland the first state in the nation to repeal its Law Enforcement Bill of Rights.

Democrats also passed criminal justice bills to remove minor marijuana charges from Maryland’s case search, end lifetime sentencing for juveniles and expand expungement for low-level offenses to increase employment opportunities.

Once again, I want to thank Senate President Ferguson and House Speaker Jones for their tireless efforts on behalf of our state. They showed that when Maryland faces an issue, it’s Democrats who deliver solutions for the people.

–YVETTE LEWIS

The writer is the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party.