ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP/WJZ) — Gov. Larry Hogan highlighted economic relief, COVID-19 vaccination and education in his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday night.

The Republican governor emphasized the need for legislation he proposed that includes direct stimulus payments to low-to-moderate income residents, with benefits of up to $750 for families and $450 for individuals.

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It would repeal all state and local income taxes on unemployment benefits. The governor’s plan also calls for sales tax credits of up to $3,000 a month for four months for small businesses.

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“This emergency legislation will provide more than a billion dollars in immediate tax relief and economic stimulus for struggling Maryland families, small businesses, and those who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hogan said.

The Maryland Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, is moving swiftly to pass the measure, after adding another $520 million to the governor’s proposal. The measure will then go to the House of Delegates.

In a break with tradition due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan delivered the speech online instead of before a joint session of legislators.

In a speech that the chief executive generally uses to describe his legislative priorities for the General Assembly’s 90-day session, Hogan focused on pandemic recovery.

“This crisis will not end overnight, but together we will bring it to an end,” Hogan said. “We will get our kids back to school, get people back to work, and get life back to normal once again.”

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Amid difficulties of short vaccine supply and criticism of the state’s rollout, Hogan sought to assure that the state won’t rest until vaccines are available to all Marylanders. He also continued a campaign to emphasize that vaccines are safe and effective.

“Getting vaccinated will help keep you, your family, and your community healthy and safe,” Hogan said. “We urge every Marylander to get a vaccine when one becomes available to you. It will prevent more illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, and it is the best hope for bringing this pandemic to an end.”

Hogan also reiterated his support for getting students back into classrooms.

“It is critical that we give our students the chance to get safely back into the classrooms,” Hogan said. “During this entire crisis, we have always followed the science, and the science is clear.”

Last month, he called on local school officials to have some form of in-person classroom learning by March 1. At a news conference, he said a growing consensus has emerged that there is no public health reason for county school boards to keep students out of schools.

Last week, the Maryland State Education Association’s president criticized the lack of safety measures and available vaccines.

“We are frustrated by the lackadaisical implementation of, and resources for, safety measures in our schools,” MSEA President Chery Bost wrote. “We are frustrated by the lack of availability of vaccines after being told how important it is for us to get vaccinated. We want to be back in our schools, safely and sustainably, for our students.”

Maryland reported it has confirmed a total of 357,483 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. That’s an increase of 942 cases from the previous day. The state also reported there have been 7,043 deaths in Maryland so far during the pandemic, up 31 fatalities from the day before.

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Ava-joye Burnett