It was interesting to hear the variety of opinions on the lawsuit filed last week by the Reopen Maryland organization against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. The 56-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Saturday, challenges the governor’s authority to issue emergency declarations closing businesses deemed non-essential, prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people – most specifically religious gatherings, implementing stay-at-home orders for Maryland residents, prohibiting or at least limiting commerce and free travel and, finally, requiring the wearing of masks or face coverings while conducting commerce. Along with business owners, four Republican legislators – Delegates Dan Cox, Warren Miller, Neil Parrott and Robin Grammer – are listed in the suit.
“By closing businesses, beaches, boardwalks, parks, recreational boating and forcing us to wear face coverings, etc.…; The State has taken away our civil rights. We have the right to run our businesses, work out together, socialize and breathe fresh air. We are responsible enough to take care of our own and we do not need the government forcing us into seclusion. Those who don’t agree have the right to continue stay at home & self-quarantine, wear face coverings and other PPE and stay 6’ away from others,” the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court reads. When asked on Fox News Sunday night about the lawsuit, Hogan said, I’m a lifelong small businessman, and nothing matters to me more than getting people back to work, helping our small businesses and getting our economy back on track.”
During a tour around Maryland last week that included stops at the Kite Loft in Ocean City and Park Place Jewelers in West Ocean City, Republican Congressman Andy Harris expressed support for the suit, saying, “I think the points they make about First Amendment rights are absolutely correct.” In a statement that was out of bounds in my opinion, Harris took it a step further during one of his stops, “I didn’t wake up in communist China and I didn’t wake up in North Korea this morning, and tomorrow morning, I should be able to wake up and go to the church I choose.” Surely Harris understands the entire state has been inconvenienced amid the health crisis.
While Hogan was not willing to directly enter the fray with Harris other than a banal comment during an interview, Comptroller Peter Franchot, a 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, defended Hogan, a Republican, against the lawsuit. He said, “I will also say that frivolous publicity stunts like this lawsuit against Governor Hogan do absolutely nothing to help the situation. Contrary to what some might believe, the lawmakers who initiated this litigation are not acting out of sincere concern for the working people of our state.”
Though the stimulus funding is clearly well intentioned, the federal government really needs to be more aware of where these dollars are going. I know of family members of five dead individuals who received the $1,200 payment last month. In one case, the widow of the deceased reported her husband had been dead five years. As if that’s not bad enough, J1 students who worked in Ocean City also received stimulus funds in their home countries. In one case, the J1 student last worked here in 2018. It’s a mess and wasteful spending by the federal government.
On the foreign worker front, the J1 Work & Travel Program remains paused for now. There have been questions on whether the thousands of foreign workers who fill the labor void in Ocean City each year will be here at all this summer. The U.S. Department of State’s 60-day ban on exchange visitors expires May 11, but it will likely be extended by the federal government. In a message to members, the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Associated shared an update from Ocean City Seasonal Workforce Committee Chair Carrie Linch, who reported the restriction will likely be extended. It’s very much an unknown right now whether these foreign workers will be here at all this season and if they will even be needed.
“We also do not anticipate participant arrivals in the month of May due to several factors: closure of U.S. Embassies overseas which has thereby halted the issuance of J-1 Visas to participants; some universities have altered courses and exam schedules, delaying participants’ arrivals; current restrictions on international travel meaning that many participants are not be able to travel to the U.S.,” the email read. “At the same time, employers must also examine their business operations and staffing needs carefully as they prepare their recovery plans to reopen this summer where bringing back furloughed employees is key. Staying in close contact with the sponsor organizations at this time is critical. Employers should discuss any changes they anticipate in their seasonal hiring needs as soon as possible with the sponsor.”
The email continues, “Concerning participants’ arrival to the U.S., please know that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have authority regarding the entry of all foreign individuals into the U.S. The participants will be able to arrive when it is safe for them to do so, and any and all DHS and CBP protocol will be followed to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”