2021 General Assembly

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    Catholic Voice Update | March 30, 2021

    Two Weeks Left in Legislative Session

    The General Assembly wraps up its annual legislative session in just two weeks. Right now, the main focus is on committees. Most bills have passed from one legislative body to the other (Senate to House or House to Senate) and are being considered by committees in the second chamber.

    Others have moved on to conference committees. A conference committee has six members, pulled from House and Senate, who work to resolve differences in a bill. The committee issues a report. If it is accepted by both chambers, the bill goes on to a final vote. If not, the bill may be sent back to conference committee or left to fail.

    After passage by House and Senate, most legislation goes on to the Governor. He has 30 days to veto a bill. If he doesn’t within that time frame, a bill becomes law. There are a couple of exceptions to this process. Budget bills become law upon final passage and cannot be vetoed. Also, the governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment.

    The process can get complicated, so here are some great resources from the Maryland General Assembly:


    If you are interested in a bill, you can click on a bill to watch its progress. Testimony from the Maryland Catholic Conference is online here, and includes a link to the bill page. Click “history” to see how it has moved along.

    Legislation we are still monitoring include a number of bills on education (including BOOST funding), environment, juvenile justice, police reform and pro-life issues.

    New Mass Vaccination Site in Maryland

    Maryland is opening another mass vaccination site on April 5 at the Germantown campus of Montgomery College. Anyone 60 or older and other eligible residents (categories are here) can pre-register online or by phone at 855-634-6829 for this or any of the state’s mass vaccination sites, including Six Flags America Theme Park, Regency Furniture Stadium (Blue Crabs Stadium), Wicomico Civic Center, Hagerstown Premium Outlets and M&T Bank Stadium. You will be notified when an appointment is open.

    As of Monday, March 29, over 911,500 Marylanders were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 2.6 million doses had been administered, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard.

    In the news this week: Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski was quoted in an Associated Press article on efforts by churches to help make vaccines accessible to all. From the article:

    “’This community has been decimated by the pandemic. We want people to get through the red tape,’ said Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, where vaccinations are taking place, is in one of Baltimore’s hardest-hit ZIP codes, a mostly Hispanic neighborhood where as many as 48% of COVID-19 tests were positive at one point.”

    Join Fr. Francisco Aguirre in Prayer

    This week’s prayer for elected officials is led by Father Francisco Aguirre, pastor of St. Catherine Laboure, a vibrant parish in Wheaton, Md. (District 18). St. Catherine is one of several parishes partnering with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services to provide COVID testing as part of the Latino Health Initiative.

    Join Fr. Francisco by clicking the image above or visiting our prayer page, where you can access all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish). The prayer also is posted on Twitter and Facebook (@mdcatholic) every Monday at 10 a.m.

    Of Note this Holy Week

    Easter bread: This is a favorite recipe recommended by one of our staff. Enjoy!

    Prayer resources: As we reflect upon the suffering of Christ during Holy Week, may we also keep in prayer the suffering of the poor and vulnerable. Check with your parish and (arch)diocese for Holy Week liturgies, and consider some of these options:


    Have a blessed Holy Week and Easter.


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    Catholic Voice Update | March 16, 2021

    World Down Syndrome Day

    The staff of the Maryland Catholic Conference has long celebrated World Down Syndrome Day, held annually on March 21, and this year is no different. We hope you will join us in raising awareness. Here are some of our favorite events and ideas:

    • Sign up for the official Maryland observance of World Down Syndrome Day. Join First Lady Yumi Hogan, state legislators and other leaders, followed by a virtual dance party on Friday, March 19, 3:30-4:30 p.m. The Conference is a proud sponsor of this celebration.
    • Join in #LotsofSocks. Wear bright, colorful, wild socks, snap a photo and post on social media with the hashtags #WDSD21 and #LotsofSocks and tag us @MDCatholic (those are our socks in the photo above).
    • Pray along with Meghan Jones, our leader for this week’s prayer for elected officials. Scroll down to our prayer video for more about Meghan.
    • Add a frame to your Facebook profile image by clicking this link.
    • Look for the lights! On Sunday, the Governor’s Mansion, M&T Stadium and the Capital Wheel at National Harbor will be lit up in blue and gold to raise awareness.


    Catholic Coalition for Special Education

    One organization that is making a difference for Marylanders with Down Syndrome is the Catholic Coalition for Special Education (CCSE). Based in Kensington, Md., CCSE helps ensure children with disabilities have access to the same opportunities as their siblings and peers, including a Catholic education.

    CCSE has provided $1.1 million in grant money to 31 Catholic schools across Maryland, while CCSE technical assistance helps schools expand their ability to serve students with special needs.

    The partnerships CCSE creates with schools and educators is vital to its mission. This past weekend, CCSE honored four Catholic school teachers at its virtual Spring Benefit, for their commitment to inclusive teaching and to helping all students reach their potential.

    The “Making IT Happen” honorees were Christina Green, on the faculty of Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac for 31 years and currently a teacher and assistant principal; Alison Interlandi, who taught at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda for eight years until moving closer to Annapolis; David Long, who has been at Lourdes for 23 years and is assistant principal; and Donna Reese, a dance instructor with the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington for 18 years who ensures that students of all abilities are included not only in studio classes, but as the CCSE shared in its Saturday program, “under the lights.”

    Congratulations and thank you to these educators!

    BOOST Applications Open


    The State of Maryland is now accepting applications for next year’s BOOST scholarships, pending legislative approval of BOOST funding. BOOST scholarships empower families with limited incomes to send their child to a Catholic or other non-public school. Go to www.marylandboost.org for a link to the state’s application, videos with BOOST families, and more.

    While applications are open, the General Assembly is still debating funding for BOOST, and there are a couple of important votes this week. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee voted against increased funding. The waiting list for BOOST tripled this year so this is a program that families want. We are now looking to the state Senate to help more Maryland families. Please contact your legislator if you receive an alert and, if you didn’t, please keep this intention in prayer. 

    Featured Legislation

    With one month to go in the legislative session, we are monitoring, following and advocating on approximately 170 bills that are at different points in the House and/or Senate. Many of the bills have the potential to make a significant difference in supporting vulnerable residents. Among them:

    The Trust Act (SB 88)

    The Trust Act (Senate Bill 88/House Bill 304) provides important clarity regarding the roles of local and state law enforcement involving the immigrant community; in particular, notification procedures from local or state entities to federal agencies without a federal judicial warrant.

    MJ Kraska, associate director for social and economic justice at the Conference, notes that “Senate Bill 88 balances the needs for both public safety and immigration … rebuild[ing] the necessary trust between law enforcement and immigrants throughout Maryland.”

    He added, “When immigrants feel safe around law enforcement, they will feel safe in reporting crimes and sharing other critical information with the local police and that will help the authorities keep our communities safe for everyone.”

    SB 88/HB304 is sponsored by Senator Will Smith (D-20, Montgomery County) and Delegate Wanika Fisher (D-47B, Prince George’s County).

    Prenatal Care Bill Would Help Pregnant Women

    We continue to push ahead on Senate Bill 777, which would expand grant funding for prenatal care, and allow additional providers, including Catholic hospitals, to participate in a program that currently is limited to counties.

    A lack of prenatal care is correlated with higher infant and mother mortality, pre-term births, low birth weight and other serious issues. Here in Maryland, 30% of women receive inadequate care. A lack of access, ability to pay, or ineligibility for Medicaid leaves Black and Latina mothers disproportionately at risk. In 2017, only half of Latina mothers received adequate prenatal care in Prince George’s County, and the problems don’t end there.

    “Our parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus – Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, in Baltimore’s Highlandtown, is in a wonderfully vibrant community, but many of our parishioners are immigrants and low income. They don’t have access to the kind of prenatal care that most families take for granted,” said Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR, who serves as pastor, adding, “This program would make a real difference for both mothers and babies.”

    Testimony on bills is posted after the hearings here throughout the week.

    Join Meghan Jones in Prayer

    This week’s prayer for elected officials is led by Montgomery County parishioner Meghan Jones. As Meghan notes in her prayer introduction, something special about her is that she was born with an extra chromosome. She currently is a student at Montgomery College, where she is getting a certificate in ASL. Please pray along with Meghan in English and ASL.

    Join Sr. Marilyn by clicking the image above or visiting our prayer page, where you can access all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish). The prayer also is posted on Twitter and Facebook (@mdcatholic) every Monday at 10 a.m.

    Of Note

    State tax filing deadline extended. The State of Maryland has extended the deadline to file 2020 tax returns from April 15, 2021 to July 15, 2021.

    This is the Year of St. Joseph and this Friday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. The Dialog and Catholic News Service discuss the traditions of St. Joseph and whether you can eat meat on a Solemnity when it falls on a Friday in Lent. A popular St. Joseph food is zeppole. We know better than to suggest we know the best recipe, but here’s one that is popular online.

    EWTN News in Depth featured Darren Stern, a parishioner in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in a segment called, “Sharing Faith and a ‘Little Jesus.’” Mr. Stern talks about his faith and work. Watch here.

    Prayer for St. Patrick’s Day: St. Patrick’s Day Breastplate is a beautiful and ancient prayer attributed to the saint. You may be familiar with at least part of the prayer (below). Join us in praying the full prayer, online here, this March 17.

    Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
    Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
    Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
    Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
    Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me…


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    Catholic Voice Update | March 9, 2021

    Catholic Guidance for COVID Vaccines


    Last week, the Federal Drug Administration approved a third COVID-19 vaccine, resulting in three now in use: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. What should Catholics know about receiving these COVID-19 vaccines?

    • Our bishops have encouraged Catholics to get vaccinated (unless medically indicated otherwise). Vaccination against COVID-19 is an act of charity in light of the virus’s grave risk to the life and health of others.
    • Catholics may receive any of the three vaccines offered. There has been discussion in media about the morality of the vaccines, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that use a compromised fetal cell line in development, in light of the grave risk to public health and availability. Their document, linked below, provides a discussion of this topic, including remote cooperation.
    • Delaying or declining a vaccination may risk the health and life of others, especially those who are not able to be vaccinated due to medical conditions. As the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, with the Pontifical Academy of Life, notes, “On the moral responsibility of undergoing vaccination … it is necessary to reiterate how this issue also involves the relationship between personal health and public health, showing their close interdependence. In the light of this connection, we consider it important that a responsible decision be taken in this regard, since refusal of the vaccine may also constitute a risk to others.”


    Featured Legislation


    Among the bills the Maryland Catholic Conference will submit testimony on this week:

    Establishing Emancipation Day as a Legal Holiday

    The Maryland Catholic Conference is submitting testimony in support of Senate Bill 0142, which would establish Nov. 1 as Maryland Emancipation Day, a legal state holiday. In 1864, Marylanders voted to abolish slavery – the first southern state (below the Mason-Dixon Line) that ended slavery through a vote of the people. The new state constitution went into effect on Nov. 1, 1864, more than a year before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Read more about Maryland Emancipation Day in the Washington Post.

    Reentry Success Act of 2021

    A hearing is being held today on House Bill 1233, the Reentry Success Act of 2021. This legislation, which the Conference supports, would assist inmates in successfully re-entering society after they have served their sentence. Support would include screening and access to private mediation between an inmate and a person who will assist with his or her reentry, social services and public transportation at the time of release. The goal of restorative justice practices such as these is to reduce recidivism.

    As our associate director for social and economic justice, MJ Kraska, notes, “When inmates are given the tools for success upon post-release their chances to break free from their often-challenging circumstances and live productive lives are exponentially enhanced.”

    Testimony from the Maryland Catholic Conference is available online here after a hearing.

    World Down Syndrome Day

    World Down Syndrome Day is March 21, but we are starting the celebration early here in Maryland.

    The Maryland Catholic Conference is proud to again be a cosponsor of Maryland’s official observance, which will be held on March 19, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Join First Lady Yumi Hogan, legislative leaders, and Carol Beatty, Secretary for the Maryland Department of Disabilities, and then stay for a virtual dance party. The event is free.

    You can register for Maryland’s March 19 Online Celebration and Dance Party through our partner, The Arc, and download the flyer here.

    More Ways to Celebrate

    • Join #LotsofSocks: #LotsofSocks is an international campaign to raise awareness of Down syndrome. 

      • Wear and encourage your friends, school classes, youth groups and whoever you can think of to take photos of themselves wearing bright, colorful, happy and wild socks!
      • Post your photo on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags #WDSD21 and #LotsofSocks
      • Tag @mdcatholic in your social media posts and the Maryland Catholic Conference will share our favorites!

    • Update your Zoom: download this Zoom background for March 21 
    • Read this column from Molly Sheahan, the Conference’s associate director for respect life advocacy

    Join Bishop Malooly in Prayer

    Most Reverend W. Francis Malooly, Bishop of Wilmington, leads us in our prayer for our elected officials this week. The diocese includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as the State of Delaware.  Bishop Malooly recorded this prayer before his recent bypass surgery. As he continues his recovery, please keep him in prayer, as well!

    Click the image above or visit our prayer page, where you can access all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish). The prayer also is posted on Twitter and Facebook (@mdcatholic) every Monday at 10 a.m.

    Of Note

    Federal COVID relief legislation excludes Hyde Amendment: The US Senate passed the American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 relief package, over the weekend (the legislation now goes back to the House for a vote). The bill excludes Hyde Amendment language which prevents the use of federal taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion.

    The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with several committee chairs, spoke out before the vote: “For 45 years, the United States Congress – whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans – has maintained that taxpayers should not be forced against their conscience to pay for abortions. Abandoning this compromise in a time of national emergency only serves to divide people in the very moment we should be united. Please, let us instead focus on delivering the COVID relief so desperately needed.”

    Pope Francis Pastoral Visit to Iraq: Pope Francis made the first papal visit in history to Iraq this past weekend. He celebrated Mass with the Christian community, met with key national and Muslim leaders, and visited the birthplace of Abraham. Read more about the trip, the Holy Father’s reflections following the visit and about the significance of the region’s history for Christians.

    Centenary of the Death of James Cardinal Gibbons: Cardinal Gibbons, the ninth Archbishop of Baltimore and champion of labor and ecumenism, died 100 years ago, on March 24, 1921. Watch the Mass in his honor celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop William E Lori on March 7.

    St. Patrick’s Day is Coming: Enjoy this story about Irish soda bread from the Catholic Review.

    Prayers: Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day. Please join in offering a Hail Mary in honor of Catholic women throughout our state who live out their faith in small and large ways every day.


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    Catholic Voice Update | March 2, 2021

    BOOST Applications May Open Soon


    While we continue to advocate with the General Assembly to expand funding for the popular BOOST scholarships (thank you to everyone who sent our BOOST action alert!), we also anticipate that the Maryland State Department of Education will open up the application process as early as this week. They have done this in prior years, even before the budget was set, so applications could be received and reviewed in time for parents to enroll their children in a school.

    “Maryland families want and need more funds for BOOST,” said Maryland Catholic Conference Deputy Director Garrett O’Day, the lead BOOST advocate for the Conference. “It is a very small part of the overall budget, but one that has an incalculable impact on the lives of low-income children and families by empowering them with educational options they did not have before. BOOST is an important complement to the world-class education system Maryland is building, particularly for low-income and minority kids.”

    BOOST recipients include children from 21 of 24 Maryland counties. The average household income for a BOOST family is under $36,000. 

    Featured Legislation


    The Maryland General Assembly’s session is more than halfway over and days are packed with hearings.

    Prenatal Grant Program Hearing

    Last week, Melissa Pelaez, a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown, provided compelling personal testimony regarding the benefits of prenatal care in a hearing for Senate Bill 777, the Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Grant Program Fund, which we highlighted last week.

    This bill would expand funding for prenatal care and allow federally qualified health centers, such as Catholic hospitals, to participate in the grant program. As many as 30 percent of women in Maryland receive inadequate prenatal care according to recent data, with those numbers much worse for Black and Latina mothers.

    Mrs. Pelaez became pregnant after marrying in 2016. She found a Johns Hopkins prenatal mobile clinic near her that offered pregnancy testing and prenatal care, and she applied for financial aid. “It gave me peace of mind because it was something I didn’t have to worry about,” she said. The program included a range of services, including wellness checks and information on what mothers will need, from diapers to car seats, to help mothers and babies thrive.

    Juvenile Justice Reform

    Senate Bill 853, sponsored by Senator Jill Carter (D-41) and supported by the Conference, would enact new measures to shift the focus on juveniles accused of crimes from retribution to restorative justice. Among the bill’s proposals, the minimum age to file criminal charges would be raised to age 13. The bill also provides for the use of alternative remedies and rehabilitation, and the development of model policies for youth diversion. In the House of Delegates, the bill (HB 1187) is sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-46).

    Legal Representation for Immigrants

    The Conference is submitting testimony in support of House Bill 750. “Our legal system rests upon the principle that everyone is entitled to due process of law and a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” said MJ Kraska, associate director for social and economic justice advocacy.

    He notes that this bill would ensure a right to legal representation in some immigration proceedings and calls for a coordinator in the Attorney General’s office to manage resources and services, ensuring covered individuals have this access. The coordinator also would designate community-based organizations to provide outreach and education.

    Testimony on bills is posted after the hearings here.

    On Pilgrimage for Women's History Month

    Maryland may be a small state, but it is one with a deep history of saintly women. The first saint born in the United States, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, ministered here, as did Servants of God Mother Mary Lange and Mary Virginia Merrick, both of whom are in the canonization process.

    Why not make a mini-pilgrimage (in-person or virtually) to the sites where they prayed, during Women’s History Month? (Please check websites before visiting regarding access, or to make a virtual pilgrimage.)

    Stop 1: St. Mary’s Spiritual Center & Historic Site, 600 N. Paca St., Baltimore

    “Paca Street,” as it’s known, is not only the headquarters for the Sulpician priests and home of the original St. Mary’s Seminary, but the birthplace of three congregations of women religious: Sisters of Charity; Oblate Sisters of Providence; and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Mich. and Pa.).

    The existing Seton House was Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s first Maryland home, in 1808, and the place where she decided to take vows as a religious. The historic church was the faith home to Servant of God Mother Mary Lange. A Caribbean immigrant and woman of color, she was encouraged in her deep faith by Sulpician Father James Joubert to found the first religious order for women of African descent, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in 1829.

    Stop 2: National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg

    It was here after her year in Baltimore that Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity, the first religious order for women religious in the United States, and the Catholic school that became the seed for Catholic education in the US. The extensive shrine includes a Basilica with her tomb, museum and historic buildings from her life in Emmitsburg.

    Stops 3 & 4: St. Paul, Ellicott City, and Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Washington, DC (on the DC-MD line)

    Servant of God Mary Virginia Merrick, founder of the National Christ Child Society, has ties to Ellicott City and Chevy Chase. “Miss Mary” spent summers at a family home in Ellicott City, where a fall as a teenager in 1880 resulted in lifelong paralysis. Her disability never stopped her from a life dedicated to helping children. A window at St. Paul, Ellicott City, was commissioned by her in memory of her father. As an adult, she lived in Chevy Chase and attended daily Mass at Blessed Sacrament, where she sat near the statue of the Blessed Mother that is at the front right of the church. (Please check parish websites before visiting in person due to COVID restrictions.)

    Join Sr. Marilyn Bouchard in Prayer

    The Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary in Salisbury also has had Maryland roots from its founding in 1974. This week the superior, Sr. Marilyn Bouchard, LSJM, leads us in praying for our state elected officials. The sisters’ ministry, The Joseph House, provides critical support for people in need on the Eastern Shore, including financial assistance with utilities, rent, etc.; food pantry; soup kitchen (suspended during COVID); and a day shelter and other programs for the homeless.

    Join Sr. Marilyn by clicking the image above or visiting our prayer page, where you can access all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish). The prayer also is posted on Twitter and Facebook (@mdcatholic) every Monday at 10 a.m.

    Of Note

    In the news: Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore was featured in the Baltimore Sun last week. The parish, led by its pastor, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR, is on the front lines of the COVID vaccine effort within the immigrant community, and the site of a pop-up vaccination clinic.

    National advocacy alert: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued an action alert regarding the COVID relief bill before the US Senate. The House version would allow COVID funds to be used for abortion. The alert asking that the Hyde Amendment policy preventing this be included in the legislation. You can send an alert here

    Prayers: Please keep in prayer the adults coming into the Catholic Church at Easter. Lent marks the final stage in their journey. The Archdiocese of Washington announced that more than 800 people are preparing to become Catholic during the Easter Vigil; many more also will in the (arch)dioceses of Baltimore and Wilmington.


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