I am back on the House floor today, but I want to be sure all of you have seen that The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic that has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide, and a national emergency has been declared. As of today, March 16, 2020, Maryland has reported 37 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Sadly, this number is expected to rise significantly due to the extreme contagiousness of the illness.

Out of an abundance of caution, Governor Larry Hogan announced that Maryland will operate under a state of emergency and will take additional precautionary measures to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. For a complete list of actions the state is taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak, visit: https://governor.maryland.gov/…/governor-hogan-announces-m…/

We are currently working on COVID-19 Emergency Legislation.

House and Senate leadership, the Governor and all state agencies are unified in the effort to keep residents safe in the wake of this rapidly evolving public health threat. At the behest of Governor Hogan, Speaker Adrienne Jones took immediate legislative action and introduced two COVID-19 bills to provide the Governor with the necessary tools to respond to this public health emergency:

● HB 1661: State Budget – Revenue Stabilization Account Transfers – Coronavirus
This bill provides the Governor with up to $50 million from the State’s Rainy Day Fund to help respond to the public health threat.

● HB 1663: State Government – State of Emergency and Catastrophic Health Emergency – Authority of Governor and Unemployment Insurance Benefits
COVID–19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020:
This bill allows the Governor to take specific actions to expand healthcare benefits and protect workers in response to the public health threat:

○ Changes the definition of a work week to allow state hospital nurses to care for COVID identified patients and still be eligible for full-time benefits;
○ Eliminates co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for COVID–19 testing;
○ Requires the Maryland Department of Health to cover the cost of COVID–19 testing and any associated costs not paid for by insurance or another third party;
○ Covers the cost of COVID–19 immunization should it become available;
○ Waives certain telehealth protocols for COVID–19 to allow more patients to be diagnosed and treated over the phone and online;
○ Requires the Maryland Department of Health to reimburse patients for telehealth services related to COVID–19;
○ Allows the state, in partnership with federal government, to provide unemployment insurance benefits to workers who are temporarily out of work or quarantined due to COVID–19;
○ Prevents retailers from price gouging necessary goods and services such as food, water, fuel and medicine;
○ Prohibits employers from firing employees who are isolated or quarantined for COVID-19.

1. House and Senate leadership are united in their support of the Governor in his effort to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson have decided to take unprecedented, but necessary, measures to slow the spread of the virus in Maryland. As such, the 2020 Legislative Session will adjourn Sine Die on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The General Assembly will reconvene in May for a special session to finalize any outstanding legislative work.

2. This decision to adjourn the legislative session did not come lightly. House and Senate leadership coordinated to make a decision that was informed, research-based, and promptly responded to the current public health crisis.

3. As legislators, we have a constitutional duty to pass the budget, and we have an obligation to work for the people of Maryland. We are working with House and Senate chairs to prioritize legislation in each committee and pass budget bills.

4. The Governor has taken measures to encourage social distancing and reduce contact like closing schools, prohibiting mass gatherings and closing racetracks and casinos. The Maryland General Assembly supports the Governor in taking proactive actions to protect our most vulnerable and limit the spread of the virus.

5. We have witnessed in other states and countries how rapidly the virus can spread when the governments fail to take immediate, preventative measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Public health research shows that the more steps we can take right now to prevent transmission of the virus, the better off we’ll be.

6. The Speaker and Senate President have established a special workgroup, the Joint Committee on the COVID-19 Response, to monitor the effects of the virus and advise the General Assembly on the steps to take to prevent the further spread of the virus.

7. Our job as elected officials is to lead by example. By adjourning the legislative session early, we’re demonstrating our commitment to protecting the health of our residents, and we hope to serve as a model for our local governments and neighboring states. Practicing social distancing now can save lives later.

As more information becomes available, I’ll keep you posted.

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