For the first time during his tenure as Maryland governor, Larry Hogan held his annual State of the State address virtually Wednesday.
The Republican governor, whose second four-year term expires in 2022, labeled himself a “straight shooter” on the adverse impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the state — namely the limited doses of vaccines from the federal government, the forced closure of many businesses, and schools that haven’t held in-person instruction since March.
“Even during the toughest moments of this past year, I still remain incredibly optimistic about the resilience of our people and the future of our state,” Hogan said in prepared remarks in his reception room. “After the longest and most difficult year anyone could imagine, I know that Marylanders are frustrated and completely fed up with this virus. Believe me, no one is more eager than I am to put this pandemic behind us.”
The slow vaccine rollout has continued to plague the state, with only about 573,000 of the more than two million people eligible currently eligible for vaccination actually receiving doses so far.
According to data from the state health department, almost 360,000 whites received the first and second dose of the vaccine, compared to Blacks with 85,000 doses administered.
“Getting a vaccine to everyone who wants one will be a much longer and much more difficult process than any of us would like it to be,” Hogan said.
During his nearly 20-minute speech, Hogan asked viewers for a moment of silent prayer for the 7,043 Marylanders, nearly 450,000 Americans and 2.2 million people worldwide who died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
He praised health care workers, grocery store employees, educators and others who have continued to work daily during the pandemic.
As a former small-business owner, Hogan often highlights such proprietors. He mentioned Route One Apparel, which sells Maryland-themed merchandise, but one of its most popular items is a state flag with the famed Hogan quote, “Wear the Damn Mask.”
One of the most pressing pieces of legislation is the RELIEF Act of 2021, a more than $1 billion coronavirus relief package that would provide stimulus checks to low-wage earners and tax relief for small businesses.
The emergency bill proposes to offer $450 for individuals and $750 for families to benefit about 400,000 people. One of the stipulations for receiving the money is for those who qualified for earned income tax credit in 2019 and those eligible for it in 2020.
Senate Democratic leaders proposed another $520 million that includes money for businesses that haven’t received assistance in the past, as well as for education assistance, mental health services and housing and legal assistance.
“I am once again calling on the legislature to pass this bill and get it to my desk as soon as possible,” Hogan said. “There is not more important for the legislature to do and Marylanders simply cannot afford to wait.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate moved the bill, along with 11 amendments, closer to final approval, which could come as soon as Friday.
After Hogan’s speech, House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County) presented a response from the chamber’s Democrats, who control the legislature.
Some of his major talking points were a more inclusive partnership with teachers and parents to reopen schools “instead of demonizing or threatening them.”
Luedtke said there will be a continued push for the governor and other state officials to “fix the bungled vaccine rollout.”
Another hope is for the governor to join Democrats in passing police reform and support House Speaker Adrienne Jones’ racial justice agenda.
“Maryland was founded on a promise of freedom and opportunity,” Luedtke said. “But that is a promise that has throughout our history been delivered unevenly, particularly for Marylanders of color.”