‘Too much at stake’ to wait ’til January, Md. special session advocates say

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Groups representing workers, tenants, immigrants, parents, students and others pledged on Wednesday to ramp up their campaign to bring the Maryland General Assembly back to Annapolis for a special session.

Speaking at an online news conference, representatives of the organizations said they would hold rallies and marches, and use digital advertising, to mobilize support for their cause.

“There is too much at stake right now to wait until January,” said Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland. “Thousands of Marylanders have to go to work every single day during this pandemic. We expect our leaders, that we elect, to do the same thing.” 

Leaders of the call for a special session said 80 organizations have joined their effort.

The legislature’s presiding officers, both Democrats, and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) have resisted prior calls to convene a special session. But advocates who spoke on Wednesday said there are pressing issues that warrant lawmakers’ return:

  • They want the state to extend the moratorium on evictions that expired July 25, to protect tenants who have fallen behind on their rent
  • They are pressing the General Assembly to override Hogan’s veto of a measure intended to end a lengthy court battle over funding for the state’s historically Black colleges and universities
  • They say frontline workers — those who deal with the public each day — lack a dependable supply of PPE to protect them from COVID-19
  • They want legislators to address the revenue shortfall the state has encountered due to the pandemic

The evictions issue is particularly acute, advocates said.

“It’s projected … that 40% of Maryland renter households right now are unable to pay rent or uncertain that they will be able to,” said Zafar Shah, housing attorney with the Public Justice Center. “We know that the black and brown households among them will be disproportionately impacted.”

“Waiting until January may very well be too late for those households,” he added.

The Board of Public Works has already begun voting on Hogan administration recommended cuts to the budget, and Hogan has warned that lawmakers face “brutal” funding choices when they return to Annapolis in January.

But Nikki Thompson, campaign manager for the Maryland Center for Economic Policy, said lawmakers must address revenues. “Maryland can’t afford a harmful cuts-only approach.” 

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, the public employee union, said more than 600 of his members have tested positive for coronavirus — and two have died.

“Our members are providing incredible services such as unemployment insurance, food stamps, foster care, mental health services, that have to continue regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not,” he said. “They’re continuing to show up for work each and every day.”

“The governor needs to have a special session so that the PPE regulations, testing and tracing protocols are robust and funded,” Moran added.

In his closing prayer, the Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore City chapter of the NAACP, called on top legislators and the governor “to recognize that this is not a political moment, this is a moral moment, a moment that requires leadership.” 

“We need you to be instruments of hope, help, and healing. It is not enough to be silent: silence is complicity. It is not enough to point the finger at other leaders. We need you to lean in now and lead.”

Several state legislatures have had special sessions since the pandemic hit. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) have asked Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) whether they could meet remotely or outside the State House. He has yet to reply.

Spokespeople for Hogan, Ferguson and Jones declined to comment on the demands for a special session.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up