Top Issues of 2021 Session: COVID-19 Response and Relief

With the 2021 Legislative Session rapidly approaching, MACo is profiling some major issues that stand to gather attention in the General Assembly’s work. Here, we look at the state-level responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the many effects across Maryland.

2020 was marked, globally, by the outbreak of a pandemic – a novel coronavirus that has cost thousands of lives, and has undermined normal activity for most people. With vaccines hopefully in sight, policymakers face challenges to respond to wide-ranging needs across public health, resident support, and business stabilization.

Maryland’s 2020 response to COVID-19 is discussed by the Department of Legislative Services in its annual compilation of Issue Papers:

Beginning with declaration of a state of emergency in March 2020 and legislation to expand the Governor’s emergency powers, Maryland has taken several actions to respond to COVID-19. Efforts have included executive orders restricting activities and requiring individuals to wear masks to reduce the spread and measures to increase hospital surge capacity, secure and distribute personal protective equipment, expand testing capacity, implement contact tracing, and prepare for deployment of a vaccine.

Emergency powers granted for 2020:

Wide-ranging legislation (SB 1080) was passed in the waning phases of the abridged 2020 legislative session to create special authority for the Governor to oversee state responses to the pandemic. In addition to multiple provisions affecting authority within State government and its own services, provisions applied to the government’s relationship with private employers and businesses.

From the fiscal and policy note:

Retail Profits

The Governor may prohibit a retailer from increasing the sale or rental price of any good or service to a price that increases the retailer’s value of profit by more than 10%, including food, fuel, water and ice, medicine, medical supplies and equipment, cleaning products, building supplies and equipment, energy sources, and storage space. The Governor may publish a list of goods and services to which this prohibition applies. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Commercial Law Article, if the Governor prohibits a retailer from increasing the sale or rental price of any good or service as provided under the bill, a violation of the prohibition is an unfair, abusive, and deceptive trade practice under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), subject to MCPA’s civil and criminal penalty provisions.

Employer Actions

The Governor may prohibit an employer from terminating an employee solely on the basis that the employee has been required to be isolated or quarantined.

More background on the COVID-19 crisis, the actions taken already in Maryland, and the range of topics being discussed may be found in previous Conduit Street coverage, and in the DLS Issue Paper:

Conduit Street coverage of coronavirus news and information

DLS Issue Papers: COVID-19 and Maryland’s Response

Helpful 2021 Session Links:

Maryland General Assembly website | 2021 Dates of Interest | Issue Papers
Re-opening procedures: Senate | House of Delegates | House Committees
Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database
MACo’s 2021 Priorities  |  MACo’s 2020 Wrap-Up

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties