In The News

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. 

March 15, 2021

A House-passed package overhauling voting, improving election security and reforming campaign finance laws is now in the Senate, where deep partisan divisions spell an uncertain fate for the landmark bill. H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act of 2021, is sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, and co-sponsored by every House Democrat. The measure passed the House March 3 on a 220-210 party-line vote. Sarbanes wrote in a letter on his website that H.R. 1 was “a once-in-a-generation reform effort to protect and expand the right to vote, clean up corruption in Washington and restore trust, transparency and integrity in government.” “Marylanders and Americans of all political stripes are demanding real change and accountability from their elected officials,” the congressman said. “People are deeply frustrated by the state of our political system – where voter suppression, extreme partisan gerrymandering and big, dark, special-interest money drown out the voices of ordinary Americans.” Sarbanes’s bill focuses on three major areas: setting federal standards to make it easier to register to vote and to cast a ballot, expanding public financing of congressional campaigns and requiring greater transparency on donors, and increasing accountability for public officials.

March 15, 2021

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rules threaten not only President Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda but also democracy itself. With the upper chamber split 50-50, the requirement means that most legislation effectively needs 60 votes to pass. And that means Republicans can block the Democrats from raising the minimum wage, rebuilding our infrastructure and reforming immigration. More important, the GOP can keep Congress from stopping Republicans’ aggressive efforts in state legislatures across the country to make it harder to vote. The barely disguised purpose of these legislative efforts is to disenfranchise African Americans and other Democratic constituencies. It risks enthroning minority rule and a Trumpist agenda in Congress, beginning with the 2022 midterms and for years to come. Given such stakes, it’s gratifying that there’s a growing movement within the Senate to weaken the filibuster and eliminate it in some cases — such as to protect voting rights and perhaps make the District a state.... The four senators from our region, all Democrats, support the reform efforts, albeit to varying degrees and with an emphasis on moving cautiously. Their views offer a snapshot of the range of Senate Democrats’ positions on this pivotal issue.... That’s a welcome sign for Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), lead sponsor of the “For the People Act,” or H.R. 1, a sweeping measure aimed in large part at blocking GOP efforts to suppress voting. Among other things, it establishes no-excuse absentee voting and guarantees 15 days of early voting nationwide. The House passed it March 3, but it will surely die in the Senate without filibuster reform. “It’s going to require [Senate] Democrats to reevaluate the rules and look at how they can be adjusted in order to allow critical legislation such as H.R. 1 to pass with a simple majority,” Sarbanes said. If that’s what it takes to protect representative democracy at a time when it’s under attack, then so be it.

March 12, 2021

After Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program last year, pumping billions of dollars into small businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic, reports surfaced that sizable chunks of that money went right back into the pockets of Congress. A slew of members, many of them already wealthy, received millions in federal aid for their personal businesses ventures under the auspices of job-saving. That reanimated debate about a longstanding, conflict of interest entrenched within the legislative branch: Members of Congress can hold positions in for-profit corporations while officially serving their constituents in Washington. Senate ethics rules address this conflict —but the House does not.... Currently, a significant pressure campaign — both within and outside Congress — is demanding greater accountability and transparency in the legislature. One major step forward is contained within H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, an omnibus political reform bill which, among other things, would overhaul campaign finance and ethical rules for both the Senate and the House. “H.R. 1 will set a new tone in Washington and usher in an era of greater political transparency and accountability,” sponsor Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., told Salon. “It will help ensure that members of Congress put the public interest first — not their personal financial interests or wealthy and well-connected special interests. Chief among these new ethical standards will be a ban that precludes members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards....” While the bill is decidedly imperfect, it has strong support from law and public policy organizations, which have hailed it as a solid first step. “Historically, Congress has exempted itself from a fair number of ethics and accountability and transparency laws that it's applied to the executive branch,” said Martha Kinsella, counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. “For instance, Congress is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. There has been some movement over the years to change that double standard, and the ethics provisions in H.R. 1 are a big step forward.”

March 11, 2021

Maryland congressional leaders announced a working group that will consider establishing a National Recreation Area for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The recreation area would be managed by the National Park Service, which proponents say would bring in additional resources for conservation and recreation to the bay area. It could be anchored by a new visitor center, for instance, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who will lead the working group alongside Rep. John Sarbanes, both Maryland Democrats. “Just as you go to other national parks, you have the visitor center,” Van Hollen said. “It’s sort of a central place where people can come to learn more about the bay — both the ecology of the bay and the history of the bay.” The working group will “collaborate over the coming months to consider legislation that would designate the National Recreation Area and release it for public comment,” according to a news release from Van Hollen’s office. The group also includes Maryland and Virginia lawmakers and officials, plus representatives from environmental groups, sportfishing and commercial fishing groups and educational organizations.... The idea has been tossed around for years. In 2004, for instance, the National Park Service conducted a study evaluating possible paths forward for the Gateways program, and the possibility of establishing a Chesapeake Bay national park. Last year, in a letter to Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan voiced his support for the recreation area. “A Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area would provide an incredible opportunity to showcase Maryland’s significant cultural, environmental, historical and natural resources, and provide an international platform for the State of Maryland and the broader Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Hogan wrote in his letter.