Frustrated with the lack of movement on proposals he submitted to combat violent crime in Baltimore, Gov. Larry Hogan redesignated the four bills as emergency legislation today, saying “there can be no more excuses or delays” for not taking action.
“We need to stop playing politics,” he said at a press conference today. “Pass these bills, get them to my desk so I can sign them and we can begin. Stop the killings and get these violent shooters and murderers off the streets and behind bars so that the people of Baltimore can take back their communities once and for all.”
If one of the bills in his legislative package passes a third reading with at least a three-fifths vote in each chamber of the Maryland General Assembly, the bill would take effect immediately after the governor’s approval.
Passage of most of those pieces of legislation appears unlikely, however, as Democratic state legislators question the effectiveness of the bills that Hogan is pushing.
One of the bills, the Violent Firearms Offender Act, would strengthen penalties for firearms-related offenses, including new mandatory minimum sentences for gun offenders.
But Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, and Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told The Baltimore Sun they want to see hard evidence that mandatory minimum sentences would actually improve safety and security of Baltimore City and the rest of the state.
Clippinger said there are already mandatory minimums on the books, but Baltimore’s arrest rate last year lagged far behind the arrest rate under former Mayor Martin O’Malley.
Legislation that would toughen penalties for people who intimidate and threaten witnesses has higher hopes of passing, Clippinger told The Sun.
During his press briefing Thursday, Hogan stood by his legislation and said the majority of Baltimore citizens and Marylanders agree with him, citing results of a poll of “600 likely voters” that he commissioned in December from Ragnar Research Partners.
According to the poll, 85 percent of Marylanders and 85 percent of Baltimoreans supported passing the Violent Firearm Offenders Act. The Judicial Transparency Act garnered support from 83 percent and 93 percent of those respective groups, while the Witness Intimidation Prevention Act received the support of 91 percent and 97 percent of those respective groups, Hogan said.
(Hogan did not provide any results related to the Victims’ Right to Restitution Act.)
“I don’t believe there have ever been bills on any subject that have ever had more enthusiastic and nearly unanimous support,” he said. “The public is literally crying out, pleading with the legislature to take these actions. But halfway through the legislative session, there’s been no action.”
In an interview with The Sun, Hogan implied that Smith should resign as chairman of his committee for the lack of progress on passing the legislation.
“For a chairman of a committee to say ‘We’re not going to do it’ is disgraceful. And he probably should not be chairman of that committee,” Hogan said.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) fired back at the governor’s comments about his senatorial colleague during a speech in the Senate chamber Thursday morning.
“The governor went over the line,” Ferguson said.
While appearing on WBAL 1090’s “The C4 Show” Tuesday, Hogan criticized Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young for calling the need to increase education funding by passing The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future “a matter of life and death.”
Young made those remarks on Monday when he testified in support of the proposal, often referred to as “Kirwan funding” after a commission of state representatives, school leaders and community members that examined issues facing Maryland schools.
Former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan chaired the commission.
After convening for two years, the commission recommended increasing school funding, expanding access to pre-kindergarten, raising teachers’ salaries and creating an accountability system to ensure funding is used for what it is intended.
In his interview on “The C4 Show,” Hogan added: “We have no support from city leaders.”
Young pushed back against Hogan’s criticism Wednesday, saying the city is still waiting for state funds the governor promised to help police.
“Instead of the governor talking about the crime, give us the resources we asked for,” Young said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Young went on to advocate for more resources to be invested in apprenticeship programs in correctional facilities, which are run by the state, to prepare people to re-enter society as productive citizens after they are released, rather than returning to crime.
“Division of Corrections, their job is to correct criminal behavior and they have failed because they’re turning people back onto the streets of Baltimore with no skills, no training, and they should provide that,” he said.
Hogan doubled down on his criticisms of Young and Democratic state legislators during his press briefing Thursday.
“[Kirwan funding] is not the top priority of Marylanders, that is not a crisis, and it is not ‘a matter of life and death,’” he said. “The actual and the only ‘life and death’ crisis is the people being shot and killed every single day on the streets of our largest city.”
Hogan noted that since the General Assembly began their legislative session Jan. 6, 104 have been people shot and 39 people have been killed in Baltimore. (There have been at least 40 reported homicides in Baltimore, per the Baltimore Sun’s homicide database.)
In their own press briefing Thursday, about an hour after Hogan’s, Young and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison discussed arrests made in violent crime cases.
BPD has made 20 arrests for homicides this year, including four new homicide arrests in recent weeks. That brings the departments cumulative clearance rate to 41 percent, Harrison said.
Among those, Harrison said BPD arrested and charged 39-year-old Martin Brooks for the Dec. 22 homicide of Carmen Rodriguez inside her family’s grocery store in the 100 block of North Kenwood Avenue.
Harrison urged residents to “see something, say something,” noting they can provide anonymous tips by calling Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.
Residents can also call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) at 888-ATF-TIPS. ATF has a rewards program that provides money in exchange for information that leads to the arrest of anyone illegally possessing firearms and using guns to commit violent crimes, Harrison said.
Young said police must use all of their crime-fighting tools, including deploying officers strategically and effectively; world-class training; expanding the use of technology; fostering strong partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement partners; and engaging community members to help prevent and solve violent crimes.
Young also stood by his comments that securing increased education funding is in fact a “life and death” matter.
“Let me be clear, the legislation to invest in our young people is absolutely a matter of life and death, and for the governor of our great state not to understand that says more about him than it does about me or our city,” he said.
Young went on to quote abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” The mayor argued there is a direct connection between funding education and reducing the likelihood of those students turning to crime.
“We know that when our young people are better educated, they are drastically less likely to turn to a life of crime,” he said. “So Mr. Governor, rather than continue to mock me, do the right thing by our young people and help me on the front end.”