In The News

April 15, 2021

In his first news conference since being elected, President Joe Biden had strong words for the voter-suppression bills sweeping through state legislatures, calling them “sick” and “pernicious.” He was right, but he also knows strong words won’t be enough. So the White House is supporting federal legislation to stem this tide: the For the People Act, which has passed the House — led by Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes — but is unfortunately becoming a political football in the Senate. Critics are seemingly so afraid of this bill that their allegations against it have run off the rails into outlandish territory: An invitation to rampant voter fraud! People voting from prison! Sixteen-year-olds casting ballots! Taxpayers forced to fund political candidates they despise! None of this true, so the real question is: What are the critics so afraid of and why? It must be the specter of more women, more shift workers, more Black and brown Americans, more young people and more people with disabilities voting and running for office. Because that is exactly what the act will do. And it will accomplish this by doing two things — reducing the overwhelming influence of big money and wealthy corporations on our politics, and combating voter suppression while expanding access to the ballot. These things are intimately connected. Deep-pocketed corporate interests have always been invested in denying the ballot to working people, people of color and people who are likely to favor reasonable business regulations but unlikely to favor anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-consumer corporate agendas. Big corporations and the wealthy have a similar interest in keeping such people from running for office, and in our post-Citizens United world, their control of the arena of campaign finance has been strengthened. According to an analysis done by the Brennan Center, in 2016 just 400 political donors gave a combined $1.5 billion — more than five million small donors combined. The For the People Act would shake up that status quo. It would create a small-donor matching system for campaigns, using money paid in fines by corporations that have broken the law — not taxpayer money, as critics claim. This makes small donors more influential, and it makes non-rich candidates more viable. Right now, if you’re not a billionaire or someone who wants to do the bidding of billionaires and big corporations, your options for financing a competitive campaign are limited; this bill would change that. It would also take direct aim at the voter suppression the president rightly calls “sick,” tactics including discriminatory voter ID laws, drastic voter roll purges, and harsh reductions in early and absentee voting. These restrictions, the worst since the Jim Crow era, all hit working people and people of color especially hard. Instead of voter suppression, under this new act we would have voter support: automatic voter registration, online registration, restoration of voting rights to returning citizens, and protection for early and absentee voting. There would be a pilot program allowing people with disabilities to register and vote from home. The timing couldn’t be more critical: the Brennan Center has tracked more than 250 voter-suppression bills in more than 40 state legislatures this season alone. And that’s why it was also encouraging to hear the president say in his news conference that he not only supports the For the People Act, he supports reforming the legislative filibuster — and is willing to “go beyond” mere reform if the filibuster becomes a complete barrier to important bills like this one. In recent weeks it has become painfully obvious that the For the People Act, and much of the rest of the Biden legislative agenda, could be DOA in the Senate unless the now-antiquated filibuster goes the way of spittoons in the chamber. Holdouts against this position are becoming fewer and fewer. This is truly a historic moment in our country’s history, with a historic set of challenges. Passing the For the People Act is a step that will give more Americans more opportunity to participate in our democracy. It will lead to a domino effect with rapid progress on the issues we care about most, like climate change, expanding affordable health care, protecting workers’ rights and more. It’s time to end the fearmongering and misinformation about this bill. It’s time for the Senate to pass the For the People Act.

March 31, 2021

U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) touted his sweeping federal election overhaul to state legislators from Howard County in a Wednesday morning meeting, saying the proposed reforms are the “most requested anti-corruption legislation” ever passed by the House of Representatives. Sarbanes is the primary architect of the For the People Act, an omnibus proposal that would cut back on gerrymandering, expand absentee ballot access and modernize voter registration. Those are just a few of the slew of election reform efforts included in the legislation, which is currently in the Senate after passing the House in early March. Sarbanes told members of the Maryland General Assembly’s Howard County delegation Wednesday that, coupled with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the For the People Act represents “the most consequential set of voting rights and civil rights reforms that we’ve seen in a generation....” Sarbanes’ election reforms would almost certainly lead to a map change in his own 3rd District, which snakes haphazardly from Annapolis to Olney and then north of Baltimore. His district has been described in The Washington Post as possibly “the nation’s most bizarrely gerrymandered district” and has been likened to a praying mantis in its shape.... Legislators also urged Sarbanes to continue his public support for the state’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community amid a spike in anti-Asian violence across the country. Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) noted that Howard County has the highest proportion of Asian Americans as a percentage of its population in the state. “Your constituents and my constituents include many in the Asian American Pacific Islander community,” Sarbanes said in his opening remarks to lawmakers. “And I know members of that community have been shaken to the core in recent weeks by the shootings in Atlanta, but also by the unveiling of what is this level of sort of bigotry that’s been targeting members of that community for some time now, and it’s incumbent on all of us to again have a collective and sustained response to that.”

March 30, 2021

On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen along side Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Kweisi Mfume came together to announce $15.45 million in emergency federal funding to reimburse the delivery of essential goods and shelter to the city of Baltimore's most vulnerable residents. The award serves as a total federal cost share reimbursement for services that Baltimore city provided to residents earlier in the pandemic. This federal funding will help the City of Baltimore continue to manage the pandemic-driven spike in food insecurity and homelessness – especially in low-income and minority communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by the virus,” the lawmakers said. “Team Maryland is committed to supporting local producers, distributors and community organizations that provide critical housing and nutrition assistance to keep residents safe and healthy as we continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.  Funding comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is authorized under Section 403 of the Robert T. Stafford Act. The federal funds will go towards the following programs in the city: $11,296,701.04 to the Lord Baltimore Isolation and Quarantining Temporary Lodging, $2,321,215 to Saval Foodservice, a company that was a participant in the Mixed Box Feeding Program, sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture and $1,827,306.49 to Baltimore's Eating Together Feeding Program. The group of Maryland lawmakers announced more than $18 million to deliver essential goods, services and resources to seniors across the city amid the COVID-19 public health emergency.

March 26, 2021

On the occasion of the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, the White House organized an online get-together with President Joe Biden and prominent members of the Greek-American Community Thursday.... Biden referred to Thursday’s phone call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying that the latter will pay a visit to Washington when pandemic conditions allow. The US President expressed his desire for closer US-Greek relations, promising that, under his administration, the two countries will be as close as possible. A closer partnership was the theme of his phone call with Mitsotakis, he said. He also said that he has not given up yet on the Cyprus issue, adding that it was his Senate colleague and close friend Paul Sarbanes who had involved him in that.  According to the ANA-MPA correspondent, among the participants were Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Representatives Dina Titus, John Sarbanes and Gus Bilirakis, lobbyist Mike Manatos and Fr. Alexandros Karloutsos. 

March 25, 2021

Maryland congressional Democrats called on the U.S. Postal Service to address mail delivery problems that the state has faced in recent months following a meeting they had Monday with agency officials. The state has “experienced one of the worst postal backlogs in the country,” the federal lawmakers said in a statement Tuesday, “and there are no excuses for the widespread breakdown of mail delivery.” Democrats pushing for improved mail service include Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Congressmen Jamie Raskin, David Trone, John Sarbanes, Steny Hoyer, Anthony Brown, Dutch Ruppersberger and Kweisi Mfume.... Monday’s virtual meeting between the lawmakers and Postal Service officials was arranged to “shed light on the lost mail and costly delays that have harmed Marylanders,” the delegation members said. But they were left with “serious concerns” about DeJoy’s operational plans.... The federal lawmakers said following the meeting that they will continue monitoring mail delivery in Maryland and expect regular status reports from the Postal Service that show improvements. “We will not stop fighting for our constituents until these problems are addressed,” the delegation members said.

March 24, 2021

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-MD, marked the 11th anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tuesday by discussing how the legislation has been strengthened thanks to the passage of American Rescue Plan (ARP), the $1.6 trillion relief package signed into law earlier this month. Speaking at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Sarbanes said the coronavirus relief bill is another step in achieving the goals of the AFA, helping more Americans gain access to high-quality and affordable health care. “One of the things the American Rescue Plan did was it built, as we know, on the Affordable Care Act in significant ways - potentially transformative ways,” said Sarbanes, who is the vice chair of the House Health Subcommittee. “(The ARP) made it possible for more Americans to access, in an affordable way, health care coverage at a time when they were struggling financially.” Sarbanes continued: “It (the ARP) expands the ACA’s tax subsidies – including, for the first time, Americans above 400 percent of the federal poverty line. And we know that this has been a real issue for families across the country. So, the ARP was a meaningful response to that challenge.” Sarbanes said he hopes the ARP is just the latest of several steps that will further the goals of the ACA.

March 24, 2021

Officials and community leaders broke ground today on the latest phase of South Baltimore's Port Covington project, which promises to bring 1.1 million square feet of new development, including 89 affordable-housing units. This latest phase is called 1B and will feature vertical construction, according to a press release. When fully development, the project is expected to bring 18 million square feet of mixed-use development to Baltimore City and 2.5 miles of restored waterfront.... The development's new phase will also include 440,000 square feet of office space, 586,000 square feet of residential space, 89 affordable-housing units, 81 extended-stay units, 116,000 square feet of retail, more than 1,000 parking spaces, and 10 acres of parks and public space.... "A vibrant Maryland depends on a strong Baltimore City, and I think Port Covington is a shining example of the potential and the positive growth that the city of Baltimore needs," the governor said. Hogan presented the project's developer with a citation during the ceremony. Other speakers included: John Sarbanes, U.S. Representative, Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District.

March 23, 2021

Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) reintroduced legislation last week designed to support federal firefighters by correcting disparity between federal firefighters and state, local and municipal firefighters. The Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act would allow federal firefighters to engage in trade time, enabling two firefighters to trade shifts without affecting pay or using annual leave.... Trade time allows two firefighters to trade shifts without affecting the pay of either firefighter at their option and with supervisor approval. The change was made because firefighters work uncommon schedules involving 24-hour shifts and 72-hour workweeks, followed by a period of time away from the firehouse. 

March 19, 2021

More than $303 million is expected to come to Montgomery County and its municipalities through the new federal American Rescue Plan. The county also will benefit through hundreds of millions of dollars more for local transit projects serving the region and for local schools. Montgomery County’s government alone will get $203.8 million in relief through the new plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11. Montgomery County, as the largest jurisdiction in the state, is getting the most. In a statement on Tuesday, the County Council said that the funding is critical to the county’s long-term recovery. “The robust federal funding coming to Montgomery County will go toward expanding and enhancing our public health response to COVID-19 and helping our restaurants, small businesses, nonprofits and working families recover from the economic impact of this pandemic,” the council said. “The funds will also bolster essential services and support critical county infrastructure.” Montgomery County’s federal delegation — Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. John Sarbanes, David Trone, and Jamie Raskin — helped the plan pass in Congress. The Purple Line light rail project is expected to receive $106 million in stimulus money to help with its completion.... The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will receive $1.4 billion, which will avert service reductions expected as a result of a $500 million budget gap and an expected operating deficit of $1.7 billion. WMATA previously announced in December plans to terminate weekend Metro service, cut bus routes and close some rail stations because of the fiscal shortfall. Education funding through the plan will funnel $1.8 billion into Maryland for school districts and $549 million for colleges and universities. The specific funding for Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College had not been determined as of Friday morning. “This is the most transformative and impactful relief package that we have seen in our lifetimes,” the County Council said. “The council is incredibly grateful to our federal delegation for working with us this past year and understanding our residents’ needs. “The funds coming to Montgomery County through the American Rescue Plan put us in a strong position for fiscal recovery and long-term prosperity.”

March 16, 2021

Earlier this month, Joe Biden signed an executive order to ensure that Americans’ right to vote is “protected and defended”—a move that came as Republicans across the country intensify their attacks on the voting rights of Black Americans and other marginalized groups, who already face systemic barriers.... But Biden could find himself helping Republicans do just that if he doesn’t change his position on the Senate filibuster. Led by progressives, a growing chorus of Democrats have been calling to abolish or at least modify the filibuster to make it harder for Mitch McConnell and the GOP minority to obstruct their agenda. Those demands have taken on a greater sense of urgency amid Republican disenfranchisement efforts. With state lawmakers across the country using Donald Trump’s bogus election fraud claims to push wildly restrictive voting laws, and the Supreme Court, to which he appointed three justices, potentially on the cusp of dealing another blow to the Voting Rights Act, Democrats and activists have rallied behind HR1, a sweeping bill to secure elections, expand voting access, and restore the pro-democracy law named for the late John Lewis. It passed the House March 3. “At a time when Americans across the political spectrum are demanding real change and accountability from their elected officials, it’s more important than ever to deliver on the promise of HR1 and restore faith in our democracy,” Representative John Sarbanes, who introduced the bill, said upon its passage. “We have no time to waste....” With Democrats increasingly lining up behind filibuster elimination or reform, it’s possible that Biden will come around, at least to prevent civil rights legislation like HR1 from being thwarted by the tool, as top Biden ally Jim Clyburn recently suggested. It won’t be easy for Biden, a creature of the Senate with a reverence for its traditions and dealmaking. But at the end of the day, he may have to decide what he cares about more—the preservation of the longstanding but flawed rule that his opponents will exploit to derail him, or the constitutional rights of the same Americans who voted last fall to protect it.