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Maryland AG’s office confirms that Hogan’s executive order repeals local control but says counties can still have stricter COVID measures

The office of Maryland’s attorney general issued guidance to local leaders Thursday about the need for potential new coronavirus rules following Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order this week that loosened restrictions and included different language for local orders.

In a letter addressed to Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, General Assembly counsel Sandra Benson Brantley, a member of Attorney General Brian Frosh’s legal team, confirmed that local orders based on past state emergency orders will be null and void as of 5 p.m. Friday but said counties have their own ability to issue stricter guidance — though how it’s done will depend upon the action.

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Counties will be able to be to take potential action through their local charter, code or a health commissioner, the letter said.

Local health officers have the power and “responsibility to investigate diseases believed to endanger the public health,” Brantley wrote.

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Under state law, Brantley wrote, that allows them to take any action or issue special instructions deemed necessary to help curb the spread of the disease. She added that it also gives them control over businesses and facilities that might be deemed as a public health threat.

Local jurisdictions could also use their charter to help implement stricter restrictions or use “police power,” which allows them to pass an ordinance to help maintain “the peace, good government, health, and welfare of the county.”

For much of the pandemic, Hogan allowed local jurisdictions to impose tougher restrictions if they helped “save lives or prevent exposure to COVID.” Most of the state’s largest jurisdictions did just that, with Baltimore enacting some of the most restrictive measures.

But the Republican governor’s new order Tuesday included different language that left local jurisdictions scrambling.

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Baltimore City is the only jurisdiction in the region to keep tighter restrictions. Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties agreed to follow Hogan’s lead in lifting capacity on bars and restaurants and letting large venues operate at 50%.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s new executive order, which is not yet public, will rely on authority from several different portions of city and state law, spokeswoman Stefanie Mavronis said.

Those include powers provided to the mayor under Maryland’s public safety code and the Baltimore City Emergency Operations Plan, as well as authority given to the city’s health commissioner by Baltimore’s health code and the Code of Maryland Regulations.

Restrictions in the new order will mirror those of the city’s current order, Mavronis said. Baltimore restricts indoor dining to 25% of capacity and outdoor dining to 50% of capacity. Religious institutions, stores, indoor recreation and gyms are restricted to 25% of capacity.

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