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Government & Politics

At annual luncheon, Democrats lay out priorities and vow to make good on campaign promises this legislative session

Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D) speaks to Democrats at a party luncheon ahead of the start of the 2023 General Assembly session. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The day before the Maryland General Assembly session begins, Democrats in Annapolis vowed to pursue progressive policy expansions and expressed hope for the next term as they work with a governor from their party following the eight-year tenure of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The Maryland Democratic Party luncheon packed a ballroom at The Westin Annapolis with hundreds of state and local lawmakers, party activists and supporters.

The 445th session of the Maryland General Assembly convenes at noon Wednesday.

In her address at the luncheon, House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) emphasized that the upcoming session will be historic. Presiding in the state’s top offices will be the first Black governor, the first Black attorney general, the first woman comptroller, and the first woman of color as lieutenant governor.

“No state in the nation has a leadership this diverse, and this reflective of the population it represents. No state is doing what Maryland is doing,” Jones, the first Black lawmaker and first woman to serve in her role, said.

Jones also laid out an agenda for the upcoming session, including a top priority to “get our state government back on track” by filling a record number of state government employee vacancies.

Jones said other priorities would be ensuring racial equity within the state’s impending recreational cannabis industry, fine-tuning policies relating to the paid family and medical leave law passed last year, and expanding protections for reproductive health care.

She plans to re-introduce a bill she sponsored last year that would have enshrined abortion rights in Maryland’s constitution. The bill passed the House of Delegates, but stalled in the Senate last spring.

“You can bet if the House started it, we will finish it,” Jones said.

Jones also spoke about making sure there are options to help Maryland children falling behind in school because of COVID-19, a priority shared by both chambers.

Sen. President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in an interview that he will introduce a bill in the next few weeks that would allow local school officials to apply for grants to fund extended-day or extended-year instruction. The estimated pot: between $20 million to $25 million.

Ferguson said school systems could use the money to hire a “traditional teacher” or create enrichment opportunities and after-school programs.

“We’re putting forward a grant competition that would allow jurisdictions across the state to apply to do extended day or extended year calendars to get flexibility with new ways of delivering education,” he said. “But [also] providing more time for kids who need it the most so that they can catch up from that learning loss. More time matters when it’s high-quality time, and we want to see what the incredible educators of Maryland can help to design to help kids catch up.”

Both presiding officers emphasized collaboration with the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D) and Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller (D).

“Now we get to think big,” Ferguson said, about transportation, affordable housing, apprenticeships for young people and policies to “fight climate change in a way that Maryland can lead the world.”

“This is the moment,” Ferguson said.

While Moore, who will be sworn in on Jan. 18, did not set out specific policy priorities at the luncheon, he discussed several issues more broadly, including ending childhood poverty, confronting environmental injustices and making the state more competitive for business.

“This is our time. Not just to win an election, but to go ahead and win a decade,” said Moore, who received a standing ovation during the event.