With so many bills coming through this legislative session, Republicans are pushing some of their own ideas regarding safety and security within the state. Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) told the Maryland Independent that he is excited about a “crime package” that is being brought forth by the Republican caucus.
Last Thursday, the House minority caucus unveiled its legislative package, with the goal of combating the issue of violent crime in Maryland.
At a crime press conference, Del. Nick Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), House minority leader, said, “Maryland is in the midst of a violent crime crisis … while Baltimore city is ground zero for this plague of violent crime, this is not simply a city issue as we are seeing an alarming amount of violent crime throughout the region.”
Deadly gun violence has been on the rise in Baltimore, with 348 homicides in 2019, the “highest per capita crime rate the city has ever had,” according to minority whip Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore). This marks the fifth year in a row that the number of homicides in the city have been over 300.
One bill in the package focuses on increasing the amount of time violent and repeat violent criminals spend behind bars.
Under current law, a person convicted of a violent crime must serve at least 50% of their sentence, but the Stopping Dangerous and Violent Offenders Act of 2020 would require those who are convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 90% of their sentence before they are eligible for parole.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure individuals who are committing heinous acts and exhibit zero respect for human life go to jail and stay in jail,” Morgan said, adding “this is common sense legislation that our citizens understand.”
Another bill, the Protecting Marylanders from Violent Crime Act, would require state and local corrections facilities to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers for individuals who are in the country illegally and have previously committed violent crimes.
Legislation that seeks to improve transparency throughout the judicial system, including more specific reporting of and increasing victim input in plea deals, is included in the package as well. The Cameras in the Courtroom Act would allow media outlets to film the sentencing portion of a criminal trial, excluding juvenile cases, and would require the media to request permission from the court to film such proceedings. Victims would have the right to opt out of being on camera and the judge would have the authority to approve or deny the request.
“This legislation provides an opportunity for the media to pull back the veil and show our citizens how the judiciary branch functions,” Szeliga said.
Other bills comprising the package are: the Gun Theft is a Felony Act, making theft of a firearm a felony with a minimum sentence of two years for the first offense and a minimum of five years for a second offense; the Truth in Plea Deals Act, only allowing plea deals to count as within sentencing guidelines if they actually fall within those guidelines; and the Victim Empowerment in Plea Act, which would provide an opportunity to victims or their representatives to certify that they have been notified of the plea agreement. Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) said that he had not heard of the package yet as it did not go through his office, but emphasized that if it gets picked up, it will be voted on in the future.
“There is no single solution to magically end our state’s violent crime crisis. It is not a simple issue,” Kipke said. “Our caucus is here to offer these serious proposals that we believe will help to reduce violent crime across our state. We know we don’t have all of the answers, but we are willing to start the conversation.”