Annapolis Insights: Legislative Newsletter – Week 12 (Special Edition)

Special Edition: The Francis Scott Key Bridge Tragedy

It is with a heavy heart that I address you today in the wake of the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. As we grapple with the profound loss of lives, injuries, and the disruption this event has brought to our communities, my thoughts and deepest condolences go out to all those affected.

In light of this heartbreaking incident, we stand with Governor Wes Moore in our shared loss. Recently, I had the opportunity to convey our state’s perspective on ABC News, emphasizing the urgency of our response efforts. I highlighted the paramount importance of swift action in search, rescue, and recovery operations to safeguard all individuals involved. Additi

onally, I stressed the broader ramifications of this tragedy on our trade and transportation networks, particularly underscoring the critical role of the Port of Baltimore in our regional and national economies. Furthermore, I expressed gratitude towards federal support in our community, particularly President Biden for his rapid response and commitment to funding the bridge. I thanked the officers who helped evacuate people from the bridge, acknowledging that their efforts mitigated the impact of the incident. Moving forward, we are committed to bolstering our infrastructure’s resilience and implementing proactive risk management strategies to prevent such incidents in the future.

At the time of the collapse, eight individuals were diligently working on the bridge. Hailing from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, they proudly called the United States their home—a testament to the rich tapestry of diversity that defines our nation. As the Chair of the Asian-American & Pacific-Islander Caucus and an immigrant myself, I am profoundly moved by the resilience and contributions of immigrants in this country. While two were fortunate enough to be rescued, tragically, the lives of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera were lost in this devastating event. Our hearts ache for their families and loved ones, as well as for those still missing: Miguel Luna, Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, Jose Mynor Lopez, and Carlos Hernández. As divers standby to recover their remains when conditions permit, our prayers and support remain steadfastly with them.


In light of this tragedy, we are actively pursuing measures to support the affected families. Initiatives such as granting permanent immediate residence to their loved ones and establishing a permanent state scholarship in honor of the workers who lost their lives are underway. Furthermore, we are advocating for legislation to protect workers, businesses, and our transportation networks at the state level.

In this time of immense sorrow and uncertainty, it is crucial that we come together as a community to support one another and provide assistance to those in need. Let us honor the memory of those affected by this tragedy by working collaboratively to rebuild and strengthen our infrastructure and ensure the safety and well-being of all.

 

Strengthening Foundations: The State’s Response to the Baltimore Bridge Collapse

I would like to underscore Governor Moore’s steadfast leadership and the decisive state of emergency declaration. His dedicated team is ensuring we remain informed and equipped through regular briefings. For updates and official statements, please visit: https://governor.maryland.gov/news/press/Pages/default.aspx 

Building Bridges: My Legislative Initiatives Following the Tragedy

In response to this tragedy, I am proposing a bill entitled: An Act to Honor and Support the Families of the Victims. This legislation aims to recognize the heroic contributions of those lost and provide essential support to their families during this difficult time. It acknowledges the victims as Maryland heroes and urges federal authorities to expedite Permanent Resident Status for non-citizen immediate family members and facilitate humanitarian parole for those residing abroad. Additionally, the bill commits to supporting economic recovery efforts, including infrastructure repair and assistance to affected businesses. We urge swift federal action and stand united in our commitment to aiding those impacted by this devastating event.

Unity in Crisis: Insights from CASA’s Commemorative Event

I was deeply honored to connect with the incredible CASA team, a national powerhouse organization dedicated to empowering working-class communities and enhancing their quality of life. At a commemorative event held to honor the victims of the tragedy, I had the privilege of delving into their stories alongside the CASA team. Among the individuals we remembered were Miguel Luna and Maynor Suazo Sandoval, cherished members of the CASA family who tragically lost their lives while working on the bridge. With families of their own, their legacy and contributions were deeply felt. The event served as a heartfelt tribute to these individuals and their families, underscoring the profound impact of their loss on our community.

The 6 hard hats symbolize the lives lost – with Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, Chairwoman of Health and Government Operations Committee.

The Past and Future of the Francis Scott Key Bridge

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a testament to Baltimore’s spirit, opened in 1977, symbolizing our city’s resilience and unity. Scholars suggest it stood close to where Francis Scott Key found inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812. It served as a vital lifeline, offering safe passage for hazardous materials and connecting our communities. As we cherish its rich history, let’s commit to ensuring its safety and fortitude, forging a future where connectivity, safety, and community thrive hand in hand.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge served as a critical artery for our city, with over 30,000 vehicles traversing its span daily, amounting to an annual traffic volume of 11.3 million vehicles. Stretching 1.6 miles and boasting a vertical clearance of 185 feet, this 4-lane bridge stood as a towering symbol of connectivity and efficiency. Extending gracefully over the Patapsco River near the bustling Port of Baltimore, it played a crucial role in the Interstate 695 outer-harbor crossing, facilitating the smooth flow of goods and commuters alike. Notably, the Port of Baltimore handles more cars and farm equipment than any other port in the country, further underscoring the bridge’s significance in our region’s transportation network.

Tragedy struck as the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, following a collision with the container ship, “Dali.” In the immediate aftermath, emergency responders swiftly mobilized to the scene, tirelessly searching for survivors amidst the wreckage. Both Baltimore City and Baltimore County have declared Local States of Emergency, with Governor Moore subsequently declaring a State of Emergency on the morning of March 26th. 

Maryland’s Port of Baltimore stands as a cornerstone of our state’s economy, generating approximately 20,000 direct jobs and boasting nearly 273,000 jobs linked to port activities. However, the recent closure of the channel and the suspension of ship movements in and out of the port have sent ripples of concern through our community, with an estimated 8,000 workers directly and immediately impacted. Among them, 2,400 are union longshoremen, while the remainder comprises truckers, ship agents, line handlers, and warehouse personnel, all integral to the port’s operations. In response to this crisis, the Maryland Port Administration (MPA), Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), and government officials are actively coordinating with the Maryland Department of Labor to provide support to affected businesses and workers. Together, their aim is to gain insight into the specific unemployment needs of these workers and explore avenues for assistance. As we navigate these challenging times, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting those whose livelihoods are affected, ensuring that they receive the assistance they need to weather this storm with resilience and dignity.

Efforts are underway to address the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. The US Army Corps of Engineers assets and equipment are expected to arrive by Friday or Saturday of this week, marking the start of the salvage operation. MDOT is collaborating closely with federal partners to plan the pre-opening of the navigation channel, manage traffic flow, and initiate bridge reconstruction. Initial funding has been allocated for immediate salvage needs, with additional funds sought for reconstruction. Preparations include managing traffic inflow to the port upon channel reopening and diverting cargo to neighboring ports to mitigate congestion and costs. Maryland’s request for $60 million to cover response operations, debris removal, and recovery support has been approved by the White House, underlining the urgency and scale of our response efforts.

Resources

Navigating Alternative Routes:

With the closure of 1-695 Outer Loop at MD 173 (exit 1) and Inner Loop at MD 157/Peninsula Exp (exit 43), anticipate delays and plan accordingly. For Harbor Crossing users, consider alternative routes such as Fort McHenry (I-95) or Baltimore Harbor (I-895) tunnels, but note restrictions on hazardous materials. Utilize the western section of Baltimore Beltway/I-695 around tunnels for prohibited vehicles. Your safety remains our priority during these disruptions.

Monetary Assistance:

If you’re a Baltimore Port worker affected by the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, you may qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI). UI offers partial wage replacement to help cover your essential expenses during this difficult period if you’ve lost work through no fault of your own. Applying for UI is simple and can be done in two ways:

  • Online: Visit the Maryland Department of Labor website (https://www.labor.maryland.gov/employment/new-filers.shtml) for step-by-step instructions on starting and filing a claim. 
  • Phone: You can speak directly with the Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance by calling (667) 930-5989, Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, to apply and receive assistance with any questions you may have regarding filing a UI claim.


Your well-being is our priority, and we’re here to support you through these challenging times.

Mental Health Support:

If you’re facing mental health challenges, you’re not alone. Baltimore County’s Department of Health provides a comprehensive resource directory for outpatient mental health services for both children and adults. This directory also includes information on mobile treatment and case management services. Find the support you need by visiting their website here (https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/departments/health/health-services/mental/outpatient). 

Help the Families of Those Affected:

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MIMA) has set up an online donation program to help the families of the bridge workers. If you can, please donate: 

https://www.baltimorecivicfund.org/key-bridge-response-fund?fbclid=PAAaacR9UYd93Rx5A32n16jgbDHsdi3JlR08kjCVfS3x5f3Slr00qUE-6VNzM_aem_ASSog-Xxlmw4n01YBz640_bVtcmn9xar4Auf81v_ZPm9rgMjbuOzjFYsaiV5sAqrTUo 

Your Voice Matters
Amidst this tragedy, I want to express my sincere appreciation to all who have shared their perspectives and concerns regarding the recent events. Your input is not only acknowledged, but deeply valued. In times like these, an engaged community strengthens the fabric of our society and government. Please know that your feedback, worries, and requests for support are important to me. Stay informed through my weekly session updates, and feel free to reach out with any inquiries or issues you’d like to discuss further. I’m here to serve you and our community. You can reach me at harry.bhandari@house.state.md.us.

Please click here to download the PDF Version of this newsletter.

 

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