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Maryland Approves Economic Relief Following Bridge Collapse

The Maryland Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade Act went into effect immediately after Gov. Wes Moore signed it. The program will assist workers and businesses affected by the Key Bridge collapse.

Returning to Annapolis, Md., after lobbying members of Congress for federal funding, Gov. Wes Moore signed legislation Tuesday, April 9, to aid workers and businesses affected by the partial closure of the Port of Baltimore two weeks after a container ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge, killing six people.

“We have to understand what happened two weeks ago was not a Maryland catastrophe,” Moore, a Democrat, said at his first bill signing of 2024. “This was a national catastrophe.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s bill signing, Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, recalled the moment he saw the void that once was the Key Bridge.

“In those moments, you sort of have two options: You can either shut down, wallow, be fearful — scared for the future — or you can act,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson and House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger — both of whom are Democrats representing Baltimore neighborhoods directly impacted by the bridge’s collapse — opted to legislatively address the disaster less than 24 hours after the bridge fell in the Patapsco River.

The governor signed their bill, known as the Maryland Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade, or PORT, Act into law Tuesday. The legislation, which became law as soon as Moore’s pen touched paper, will create economic relief funds for thousands of workers and many businesses that rely on operations at the port, and offer financial incentives for businesses that have to divert their operations to other ports to return to Baltimore once its channel reopens.

The bill will also create an education grant program for the children of transportation workers killed on the job.

Moore arrived at the Annapolis bill-signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with members of Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration and Maryland’s congressional delegation to urge federal bipartisan support to fund the state’s effort to clean up debris, rebuild the bridge and reopen channels to allow ships back into the Port of Baltimore.

“We had a chance to stand with every single member of the Maryland delegation, from the 1st Congressional District’s (Republican U.S. Rep.) Andy Harris, to the 8th Congressional District of (Democratic U.S. Rep.) Jamie Raskin,” Moore said Tuesday afternoon. “Democrats and Republicans collectively standing together and saying that, in this moment, Maryland is going to do its part.”

There are questions over what the bridge’s name will be once it’s rebuilt. House Economic Matters Committee Chair C.T. Wilson, a Democrat representing Charles County, said Monday that there is “no doubt” that it will be named the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Among the dozens of other bills signed Tuesday was legislation to formally name the Port of Baltimore in honor of former Republican U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, of Maryland. Though named in her honor in 2006, this law will guarantee that any reference to the port in state law or documents refer to it as the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore. Former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich appeared at Tuesday’s ceremony to celebrate.

Aside from legislation related to the port, Moore signed bills to expand protections for firefighters facing certain types of cancer, strengthen employment pathways for military spouses, protect election workers from threats and harassment, and increase military leave for state employees serving in the National Guard.

Moore repeated a mantra from his days in the military several times before signing legislation Tuesday: “Mission first, people always.”

“That philosophy is at the heart of these four bills,” he said.

©2024 Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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