Gov. Larry Hogan implored members of the Maryland General Assembly during his annual State of the State address on Wednesday to pass a series of bills his administration has proposed that are aimed at addressing the violent crime epidemic in Baltimore City.
“All of the bills you will be considering over the next 61 days are important and worthy of debate and discussion. But none of them are nearly as important as addressing the out-of-control violent crime, the shootings, and murders that are destroying Baltimore City,” Hogan said in a 25-minute speech to a joint session of the House and Senate at the State House in Annapolis.
Hogan mentioned three bills by name.
“If you do not consider any other legislation, and if you accomplish nothing else in the next 61 days, pass the Violent Firearm Offenders Act of 2020…pass the Witness Intimidation Prevention Act…and the Judicial Transparency Act.”
The first bill would increase penalties for those who commit gun violence. It targets those who illegally possess a gun such as in cases of theft or ownership by felons. The second bill would increase penalties for those who threaten or try to intimidate people who come forward with information about a crime. The third bill would require the state to make the sentencing records of judges who adjudicate violent offenses available to the public.
Hogan’s FY 2021 budget allocates a substantial sum of money for public safety. That includes $74.5 million to local governments for police aid, $38.7 million for local law enforcement grants and $3 million for officer recruitment and attainment. Also included is $21 million in additional funding for Baltimore City prosecutors and funds for the state attorney general’s office to hire 25 new prosecutors and personnel to assist.
Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, told MarylandReporter.com that Hogan “does a very good job of trying to bring people together” and that that is “exactly the kind of leadership you want. You want bipartisanship.”
Cardin, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said of the crime bills: “There are some that I look forward to working on in our committee. There are others that I philosophically have some issues with. But I have spoken with the governor’s staff and we’re going to sit down and see where we can work together.”
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, a Democrat, also praised the governor’s push for bipartisanship in his speech. ” I was definitely pleased with the call for unity and bipartisanship. I think that we can come together around issues like the environment, like protecting our bay and I think that we are all united in the goal to invest more in education and school construction to create the best teaching and learning environment for all of our educators and our students.”
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, commended Hogan’s call for crime reduction to be the foremost priority for the legislature.
“To me, that is the line that sums up the speech.”
Jennings was asked if he expects the bills to pass.
“They should. And if they don’t, then we failed.”
Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, said he is not acutely familiar with Hogan’s crime reduction proposals but commended the governor for addressing gun violence in the speech.
“I do know there’s obviously a very, very serious problem. I think of all the examples he gave, at least one of them involved guns and shooting.”
Glendening said that new gun laws are needed and that existing laws need to be more “aggressively enforced.”
Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican, commended Hogan for his willingness to tackle violent crime.
“I think the governor is right on track. I think you need to actually prosecute criminals. I think he’s right: Witness intimidation is a huge aspect of this. You’ve got to make the penalty very, very, very severe for someone who will intimidate a witness and you have to imprison people who will use a handgun in the commission of a crime or possess a stolen handgun or file the numbers off a handgun. We have to be very tough on gun crime in the city, and the statistics up until now prove the city does not have the resources to do it.”
Baltimore Mayor Jack Young told MarylandReporter.com just before entering the House of Delegates chamber to hear the governor’s speech that he “has not seen Hogan’s bill,” which is a series of crime reduction proposals.
Maryland Hall of Fame boxer Marvin McDowell, who was a guest of Hogan’s, said he was pleased with the governor for pushing for harsher penalties for those who commit crimes. “We need to do that,” said McDowell, who is the founder and executive director of Umar Boxing. The Baltimore City youth development program promotes academic excellence and athletic training, and stresses, “No hooks before books.”
“Relationships, building relationships with these kids,” is one of the keys that he said could make a difference in stopping the crimes. “We need more community policing where the [police] get to know these kids.”
McDowell said that many of the kids he works with don’t have the “parental support” like he did when he was growing up.
So why do some of them turn to crime?
“They feel there is no hope,” he said. However, he said these kids can see the hope if the community comes together, gets to know the children and becomes mentors that show them there is a way out of the cycle of violence.
Timothy W. Maier and Regina Holmes contributed to this story.