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News roundup: Moore urges confirmation of adjutant general, nursing home oversight bill moves forward, paid leave closer to reality

Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead and Gov. Wes Moore (D) appeared together at the State House on Wednesday. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) appeared with his nominee to lead Maryland’s Military Department on Wednesday, Brigadier General Janeen L. Birckhead, and urged her confirmation before the end of the legislative session on Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Birckhead would become the only Black woman currently leading a state military in the country, Moore said.

Moore said his Cabinet was the “most diverse and remarkably competent cabinet in the history of the state of Maryland.”

Moore, who was deeply involved in the search to pick his Cabinet members, said he was perhaps most invested in the choice to lead the state military because of his own history as an Army veteran.

He called Birckhead a “soldier’s soldier” and highlighted her experience leading the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force.

And, “when democracy itself came under attack, on January 6 of 2021, Brigadier General Birckhead ensured that Maryland was the first state to respond to that crisis,” Moore said. “And her actions help protect not just individuals, but helped to protect the Constitution of this country.”

Birckhead, who is currently commander of the Maryland Air National Guard, said her goal as adjutant general would be to modernize the state’s military buildings, equipment and support for soldiers.

“The Maryland National Guard has a long tradition of answering the call to duty, whether it’s during times of war, national disasters, civil unrest, or fires yesterday in Baltimore County. We will rise to meet any challenge and respond to any emergency and face down any enemy, foreign or domestic,” she said.

Birckhead noted her call sign at the end of her remarks, saying “Resilient 6, at your service.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said the Senate Executive Nominations Committee would likely squeeze in a meeting sometime Friday to hear from Birckhead and Moore’s new nominee to lead the new Department of Service and Civic Innovation, Paul Monteiro.

Senate advances oversight bill

The Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill to increase oversight of state-owned nursing homes.

Senate Bill 974 requires operators of state-owned nursing facilities to provide near immediate notice for any citations issued or enforcement actions taken by state or federal regulators. Notices would be sent to the Senate Finance and House Health and Government Operations Committee, the governor, the state agency responsible for the facility and lawmakers who represent the district where the nursing home is located.

Within 30 days, operators of state-owned nursing homes would be required to provide a statement of deficiencies, a plan for correcting them and all letters from regulators.

The proposal would also require the Department of Health to provide an annual report on all state and federal regulator reviews and enforcement actions on a state-owned nursing home.

The bill was proposed late last month in the wake of reports of abuse and neglect at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary’s County.

The Senate bill, which is sponsored by all 47 senators, passed on a voice vote and without debate. Final approval in the Senate could come as early as Thursday. An identical bill awaits action in the House but is also expected to pass and head to Gov. Wes Moore’s desk for his signature.

Medical leave program closer to reality

Advocates celebrated Wednesday as the House of Delegates gave final approval to a program that would implement the state’s paid family and medical leave program passed by lawmakers last year.

Senate Bill 828 goes back to the Senate for final approval in that chamber to a minor amendment. The measure passed the House by a vote of 99-36.

The bill establishes an even 50/50 split for contributions to the state Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program and delays some deadlines in the original bill.

The start dates for required contributions would be delayed to Oct. 1, 2024 and benefit payments would become available to eligible workers Jan. 1, 2026.

“This bill lays the groundwork for the state to launch and administer a high-caliber program that will allow Maryland workers to take paid time away from work to deal with family issues, without the threat of losing a paycheck or a job,” Clinton Macsherry, director of public policy for Maryland Family Network, said in a statement. “We are now on the path to having one of the most expansive paid family and medical leave program of any state in the nation.”

The Maryland paid leave program will allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off to deal with family health issues, including caring for themselves or a loved one, welcoming a new child or dealing with a military deployment.

The program will cover most workers and would provide low- and middle-income workers with a higher percentage of income during leave.


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News roundup: Moore urges confirmation of adjutant general, nursing home oversight bill moves forward, paid leave closer to reality