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Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith (left) shakes the hand of Senate President Bill Ferguson on Jan. 12 after he is sworn in to continue as the chamber’s leader. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Black Agenda at Forefront of 90-Day Session

1.12.22 – Washington Informer – ANNAPOLIS

The Maryland legislature convened Wednesday for its annual 90-day session, the third straight amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers donned black and white KN95 masks and some showcased face coverings with a message such as Del. Nick Charles (D-District 25) of Forestville outlining his support for public schools.

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro wants to ensure a Black agenda remains a priority that includes legalizing marijuana for recreational use for adults, police reform legislation from Gov. Larry Hogan and the environment.

Within those proposals, Barnes said mental health must be an integral component.

“We need to look at diverting a lot of our dollars towards mental health,” he said. “Not only for our elderly population, but our youth because of this pandemic. We are seeing more and more people who are in need of the assistance they deserve.”

Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly said he plans to craft legislation focused on behavioral health, especially inequities among Blacks and Latinos.

Augustine recommends some money from the more than $2 billion budget surplus to pay for mental health treatment for specific areas such as depression, suicide and domestic violence connected with people isolated in the home.

“It could be used to help [people] immediately and it is investments in people today that will help long term,” he said. “If we can help people live a full and productive life by giving the behavioral health concerns they need, it pays off for us in the long term. We need to make sure people are safe. If there’s anything we need to do as a legislature, then we need to do that.”

A Mayo Clinic physician said during a recent podcast that racial and ethnic minority groups are more adversely affected by the pandemic due to having jobs with limited or no health insurance, limited access to health care and other economic factors.

As of Wednesday, whites accounted for 55% of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases, followed by Latinos at 24% and Blacks at 12%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Maryland, Blacks account for 33% of confirmed cases as of Wednesday, compared to whites at 38%, according to health department data.

Meanwhile, anti-vaccine protesters — all of whom were white — gathered near the State House on Wednesday to express their disapproval against vaccine mandates.

‘Honor and a privilege’

After being sworn in to represent the 25th Legislative District in Prince George’s County, Karen Toles paid homage to her father, who brought her to the State House as a legislative page when she attended Forestville High School.

“To come back in these chambers and serve in this capacity, what an honor and a privilege,” said Toles, a former Prince George’s Council member from 2010 to 2018.

Toles, who recently graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School, will serve on the House Judiciary Committee.

One topic she will focus on is ghost guns, which are privately manufactured firearms often used in crimes. The guns are typically made of plastic, can be assembled using 3D printers and, most importantly, don’t have serial numbers, making them untraceable.

Toles works as a community affairs director for Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, who made it one of her legislative priorities.

A similar ghost gun bill didn’t get approved in last year’s session in Annapolis.

According to a legislative summary from Braveboy, county police had about 210 cases involving ghost guns last year.

“This legislation will close the loophole for the manufacturing and use of ghost guns in violent crimes in Maryland,” the summary said. “This legislation is aimed to make clear that ghost guns should be considered firearms for the purposes of the public safety article and for the purposes of the use of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.”

As for the first day of business Wednesday, several people drove to Annapolis to celebrate Toles such as her sorority sisters with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

“I’m so excited about her being in this body,” said Kym Taylor of Bowie, who’s running for a seat in District 23B that could become consolidated as part of District 23. “As a council member in her District 7, she did a lot for those constituents. To have her here on a different level and now with a degree in law, she’s going to be a fantastic asset.”