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MARYLAND SENATOR RON WATSON -- 2024 End of Session Lette

Dear Neighbor:

The Maryland General Assembly recently concluded our 446th Legislative Session and we made the most of our 90-days in Annapolis. We started the session with a $1B budget deficitm, hae an active shooter alert which required us to shelter in place, and we ended the session with an eclipse.


At the heart of every decision we made was whether the policy we advanced would tangibly improve Marylanders’ daily lives based on current challenges.

For the first time in a number of years, we began our Legislative Session with a sense of normalcy. Disruptions in our operations due to the pandemic were behind us, in addition to the historic federal stimulus funding that accompanied the COVID-19 public health emergency. Since the legislature gaveled in on January 10, our focus has been on responding thoughtfully to changing circumstances, new technologies, and based on implementation of landmark legislation passed in recent years, specifically, the Blueprint for Education.

It is unimaginable that those changing circumstances would include a major disaster as a cargo ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, leading to its collapse, the tragic death of six construction contractors, and the closure of the Port of Baltimore. With less than two weeks before adjourning Sine Die, the General Assembly quickly worked in coordination with Governor Moore’s Administration, our federal and local partners, and small businesses and workers to pass legislation to support those impacted. 

Moreover, we continued the hard work started in January to advance critical bills on a myriad of topics. From improving our juvenile justice system to expanding accessibility of affordable housing and protecting consumers to passing a Fiscal Year 2025 budget strengthening Maryland’s economic competitiveness, the legislature took historic steps on your behalf.


After a hard-fought 2024 Legislative Session, I look forward to serving Maryland’s 23rd Legislative District back home until the next Session kicks off in January of 2025.


Below is an overview of some of the most important issues the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) addressed in the 2024 Legislative Session:

Supporting Those Impacted by the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse: Immediately after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed and the impacts of the Port of Baltimore’s closurebecame clear, the MGA began crafting legislation to ensure those economically  impacted would be supported until the port reopens. The Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade (PORT) Act (SB1188) was crafted to provide the Maryland Departments of Labor and Commerce with the funding, tools, and flexibility needed to respond to this crisis. Specifically, the PORT Act will:

  • Ensure all workers currently out of a job and not fully made whole by unemployment
    insurance receive direct benefits;

  • Provide resources to small businesses who want to retain their workforces but need assistance to do so; and

  • Incentivize entities who use or rely on the port to do business to come back to the Port of Baltimore after it reopens.

Improving the Accountability, Rehabilitation, and Coordination (ARC) of our Juvenile Justice System: The simple truth is the juvenile justice system in Maryland is not working optimally to provide the best outcomes for children. Unfortunately, crimes committed by young people have become the largest part of the crime perception problem in Maryland. Through legislation, the State budget, and executive action, we are improving the ARC of the juvenile justice system (HB814). The reforms addressed include:

  • Expanding the jurisdiction of the Department of Juvenile Services to include those under 13 for certain firearms-related offenses and third-degree sexual offenses;

  • Requiring a child in need of supervision petition to be filed for a youth accused of
    committing car theft;

  • Ensuring young offenders to participate in treatment by allowing a court to extend
    probation if, after a hearing, a court finds a youth has two or more excused absences at a treatment;

  • Allocating $43M for the creation of the Governor’s Office of Children to ensure there is a single entity responsible for tracking youth across multiple agencies (SB360); and;

  • Increasing the transparency around young people involved in crimes involving a firearm (SB652).

Enhancing Public Safety in our Neighborhoods through Gun Safety: The most important  role of government is strengthening community safety efforts so all residents are secure when going about their daily lives. Unfortunately, the gun violence epidemic is making those efforts more challenging as firearms fall into the hands of bad actors and the gun industry puts profits over public safety. The legislature passed the Gun Industry Accountability Act of 2024 (SB488/HB947) to require firearm industry members to implement reasonable controls so guns and ammunition don’t get into the wrong hands, refrain from knowingly contributing to public harm, and providing the Office of the Attorney General and public with a civil legal remedy for violations. Moreover, we advanced legislation to establish the Center for Firearm Violence Prevention within the Maryland Department of Health (SB475/HB583) to reduce firearm violence, harm from firearm violence, and misuse of firearms in Maryland by partnering with federal, State, and local agencies and affected communities to implement a public health approach to violence reduction.


Strengthening Basic Consumer Protections in Pricing and Privacy: Recognizing the immense strain on working families, the MGA passed a package of bills aimed at protecting consumers from unscrupulous business practices threatening individuals’ financial well-being and privacy. These basic protections will curtail growing and emerging concerns in a variety of ways. First, we put guardrails around the residential retail energy market as 370,000 Maryland families paid $178M more than necessary on energy costs in 2022 alone (SB1). Second, we prohibited ticket resellers from reselling tickets with exorbitant fees or advertising speculative tickets prior to an official sale date (SB539). Finally, we banned online data tracking and content targeting to minors (SB571/HB603) and required big tech companies to allow Maryland residents to opt-out of invasive data collection practices (SB541/HB567).  


Expanding Access to Affordable Housing and Renter Protections: The availability and affordability of housing is critical to Marylanders enjoying an increased quality of life while reducing inflationary pressures. Fundamentally, for rental and housing prices to decrease, we need to reduce barriers to building housing across the State. In partnership with Governor Moore’s Administration, the MGA passed legislation to establish a Maryland Community Investment Corporation to provide financial incentives to build housing in low-income communities (HB599), and remove zoning and density restrictions for transit-oriented developments assuming strict criteria are met (HB538). Additionally, we advanced the Renters’ Rights and Stabilization Act of 2024 (HB693) to raise the filing fees for eviction proceedings to disincentivize frivolous cases and establish an Office of Tenant and Landlord Affairs within the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which will be tasked  with developing a Tenants’ Bill of Rights. The FY25 State budget also includes significant funding for affordable housing, including:

  • $138.5M for rental housing programs;

  • $50M for Project CORE to address vacant housing; and

  • $21M for homeownership incentive programs.

Building a World-Class Public School System: Since developing and enacting the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the MGA has been laser-focused on supporting our pre-K to 12 schools and building a world-class system of public education. This school year is the first year of State funding for the Blueprint’s implementation and the legislature took multiple steps in response to feedback from our public schools, teachers, and families. Foundationally, we know that the Blueprint will only be successful if there is a sufficient teacher workforce to meet its needs. We remain committed to ensuring rigor in teacher licensing and high-quality instruction, but also recognize the need for flexibility where appropriate. That’s why we created a Grow Your Own Program to help school employees transition into teaching roles (SB937/HB1157), lowered unnecessary and costly barriers to initial teacher certification (SB771/HB945), and strengthened our commitment to early childhood educator licensure and career development in publicly funded pre-K programs (SB500/HB1441). Further, we bolstered our community school apparatus to ensure students attending schools in areas with high concentrations of poverty receive wraparound services and supports that meet their community’s unique needs (SB161/HB200). Finally, we created a $1M Access to Attorneys, Advocates, and Consultants for Special Education Fund to support low-income families who believe their children should be receiving individualized education program services and reach an impasse with their local school system (SB797/HB903). We continue to believe in the ability of the Blueprint to transform student outcomes and trust that the school systems will tailor the policy framework to their district’s unique needs.


Investing in Maryland Values through a Competitive and Balanced Budget for Fiscal Year 2025: The core role of the Maryland General Assembly in any legislative session is passing a balanced State budget for the next fiscal year. The operating budget that passed the legislature makes critical investments in education, transportation, and behavioral health without broad based tax increases to maintain our State’s economic competitiveness. We ultimately enacted a $63 billion budget (SB360 and SB362) that invests heavily in Maryland values, including:

  • $14.4B in Medicaid funding to provide healthcare coverage to 1.6 million residents;

  • $9.1B for Maryland public pre-k to 12 schools, an increase of of $457M (5.3%), to fully fund the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future;

  • $488M in new funding for the child care scholarship program to address previous
    shortfalls while fully funding the FY25 budget to support more than 31,300 children;

  • $257M in new revenue to address the State’s transportation needs until the Maryland Commission on Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs can complete its work this year;

  • Nearly $105M of new revenue dedicated to emergency medical services beginning in FY25 including about $46M to support the Emergency Medical Systems Operations Fund, $41M for shock trauma, and $18M to expand reimbursements to the Maryland Trauma Services Fund;

  • $121.4M for police aid, which is $46M above the statutorily required amount, in addition to $8M in new funding for violence intervention and prevention programming and $10.3M for community-based services for juveniles and services to families residing in communities with high crime rates; and

  • $2.4B in cash reserves, including $2.3B in the Rainy Day Fund and $128M in the
    General Fund.

Transitioning to a Greener, More Efficient Energy Grid: The climate crisis poses an existential threat that requires urgent and immediate action. To meet this moment, it is vital that Maryland transition to a greener, more efficient, and more reliable energy grid through both enhanced energy generation and distribution. In addition to a $90M investment in decarbonization programs (SB360), the MGA passed several bills towards this aim that will:

  • Require State agencies and electric companies to pursue federal funding under the Inflation Reduction Act to invest in demand-side methods and technology to improve reliability and efficiency (HB1393);

  • Allocate 15% of all corporate tax revenue generated by data centers to the Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund while bolstering backup generation for critical infrastructure (SB474);

  • Reform the EmPOWER program, which has saved ratepayers $4B, to align its goals to the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 by achieving greenhouse gas emissions reductions (HB864);

  • Incentivize the development of solar energy in Maryland through the Brighter Tomorrow Act (SB783);

  • Strengthen our ability to meet our offshore wind energy generation goals while retaining the existing ratepayer cap protections (HB1296); and

  • Create a pilot program for the transition of natural gas infrastructure to network geothermal in low-income communities to benefit neighborhoods using available federal funding (SB570/HB397).


Safeguarding the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s Environment: Protecting two of Maryland’s most important assets, our natural resources and the Chesapeake Bay, is of paramount importance. It is vital that we leave our State in a better environmental position for future generations. The legislature took a number of steps this year to bolster those preservation efforts. First, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Sackett v. EPA ruling, which hamstrung enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act, the MGA passed the Clean Water Justice Act (SB653/HB1101) to allow State civil actions to ensure clean waterways. Second, we passed the Whole Watershed Act (SB969/HB1165) to shift Maryland’s focus to whole watershed restoration, incentivize innovative practices, improve project quality, and responsibly fast-track environmental restoration work across Maryland. Finally, the legislature passed a bill (SB1074/HB991) to establish an industrial sludge utilization permit to better regulate this harmful organic material which seeps into our waterways when used for farming without proper safeguards.


Tackling Child Poverty and Strengthening Communities: Building strong and vibrant communities means investing in residents from an early age. Child poverty is unconscionable, and its impacts continue throughout an individual’s life. We advanced legislation this year that will help to tackle the root causes of poverty in Maryland by addressing gaps in existing funding streams that support children and families (SB482). This legislation, the Engaging Neighborhoods, Organizations, Unions, Governments, and Households (ENOUGH) Act, is particularly focused on issues from early childcare and education to affordable housing, public safety, and support for civic infrastructure. Most importantly, the legislation is about a focused community-led effort to improve neighborhoods, not just by the government, but with philanthropic partners, the private sector, and government agencies.


Setting Guardrails and Encouraging Innovation in Artificial Intelligence: The development and acceleration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be one of the defining moments of the 21st century. Moving forward, it is critical that Maryland takes a balanced approach to AI that fosters innovation while setting basic protections for our State’s residents. The places that do this the best will see the greatest entrepreneurship around AI that’s appropriate and effective. This year, we passed the Artificial Intelligence Governance Act of 2024 (SB818) to set policies and procedures for State agencies employing AI. The AI will ensure safeguards are in place around high-risk applications to avoid potential bias or safety risks. At the same time, we provided significant latitude to our higher education institutions who are on the frontlines of AI research to build a more efficient, responsive, and equitable tool. This issue will be an ongoing effort for years to come.


Protecting Public Servants on the Frontlines of Democracy: We are in a particularly troubling moment in American democracy as threats and violence directed at those on the frontlines of upholding our institutions continue to increase. Our judicial and election administration systems are integral to a functioning democracy, and the MGA took steps to protect the individuals responsible for their performance. Following the murder of a Maryland judge last year, we passed the Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson Judicial Security Act (SB575/HB664) to allow current or retired justices, judges, magistrates, or court commissioners to request that their personal information not be published online. Further, we passed the Protecting Election Officials Act of 2024 (SB480/HB585) to hold those who knowingly and willfully threaten an election official or their immediate family accountable for their attempts to disrupt our electoral process.


Ensuring Equal Rights and Pay for All: Demanding equal rights for all Marylanders and Americans, regardless of sex, is foundational to fulfilling our nation’s promise. The General Assembly reaffirmed our commitment to the principle of equality under the law this year when we passed a joint resolution (SJ1) calling on the Biden Administration to formally adopt the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite the requisite number of states having ratified the ERA, procedural hurdles have delayed its certification. Moreover, we passed legislation to increase wage transparency by requiring that employers include a possible salary range for a role when posting a job listing (SB525/HB649). Greater clarity in hiring is a critical step to closing the gender wage gap and ensuring equal pay for equal work.


Allowing All Marylanders to Purchase Insurance on the Health Benefits Exchange: Easy access to comprehensive health insurance should be available to all Maryland residents, regardless of immigration status. The Access to Care Act (SB705/HB728), passed by the MGA, mandates that the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange (MHBE) apply for a federal waiver to allow undocumented immigrants in Maryland to purchase health insurance through the Exchange. Having access to the Exchange will make it easier for individuals to purchase plans because of the availability of multilingual staff to guide them through a streamlined process that bundles coverage under one policy.


Streamlining State Government: Government is a tool for good, but convoluted processes for accessing benefits, navigating permitting, and applying for professional licenses create mistrust in State agencies and limit our economic competitiveness. Maryland must have predictable, efficient, and convenient procedures to encourage individuals to move here and for small businesses, developers, and corporations to invest in our State. The Transparent Government Act (SB472/HB581) cuts through the proverbial red tape by requiring all State agencies and units to create and publish a catalog of permits, licenses, and certificates it issues, in addition to processing timelines and regulatory requirements. By doing so, we will provide much-needed regulatory predictability to businesses that want to start up or expand here in Maryland.


Fortifying Local Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries: Local breweries, distilleries, and wineries have been treasured community members throughout our State but face challenging economic conditions when competing with national brands that tend to be significantly larger. According to a 2020 Maryland Economic Analysis, local alcohol manufacturers have an annual economic impact of $3.4B and generate $52M per year in tax revenue while supporting over 33.500 jobs. The industry has continued to struggle following the pandemic, so the MGA took steps to bolster its operations this year. We passed critical legislation to permanently remove the cap on sales for off-premises consumption and set up a direct-to-consumer delivery system using manufacturer employees only (SB1041). This bill will not only support Maryland breweries, distilleries, and wineries but also make pandemic-era consumer conveniences permanent.


Addressing Program Duplication in Higher Education: In 2021, the State’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) won a  $577M settlement in a case that revealed the State provided predominantly white institutions more State resources and allowed duplicate degree programs that put our HBCUs at a competitive disadvantage. Following the work of the legislatively created Program Approval Process Workgroup last year, the MGA passed legislation to improve the approval process for new higher education programs by encouraging transparency, collaboration, and consistency among State institutions (HB1244). Under the legislation, institutions that oppose approval of an academic program must base their objection on specific key factors, and the Higher Education Commission is required to report annually any programs that it approved in the preceding school year over an objection by an HBCU.


23rd District Residents Continue to Lead in our State


I was honored to support our neighbors listed below for 2025 gubernatorial appointments and extend my deepest congratulations:

Ade Adebisi (Bowie) - Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission
Aleazor Taylor (Bowie) - Fire-Rescue Education and Training Commission
Artis Hampshire Cowan (Mitchellville) - Maryland Stadium Authority
Gina R. James (Upper Marlboro) - School Safety Subcabinet Advisory Board
Vincent Canales (Bowie) - State Board of Massage Therapy Examiners
Justin K. Robinson (Bowie) - Accountability and Implementation Board
Karen Michelle Price-Ward (Upper Marlboro) - University of Maryland Medical System Corporation Board of Directors
Lisa A. Hall Johnson (Bowie) - Commission on Judicial Disabilities | Reappointment to the District Court of Maryland, District 5, Prince George's County
Monica Goldson (Upper Marlboro) - State Board of Education
Pamela D. Stokes Eggleston (Bowie) - State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners
Paula Neira (Bowie) - Commission on LGBTQIA+ Affairs
Robynne Prince (Bowie) - Prince George's Community College Board of Trustees
Shawn Wright (Upper Marlboro) - State Racing Commission
Tierra Robinson (Upper Marlboro) - Commission on Indian Affairs
Yvette Walker Lewis (Bowie) - University System of Maryland Board of Regents


It’s been a great honor to represent you and our community as your State Senator. If I can ever be of service,
Please contact me.

Best Regards,

Senator Ron L. Watson, PhD
23rd Legislative District
O: 301-858-3631 
121 James Senate Office Building
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

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