Maryland once again tries (and fails) to pass a tougher crime bill

For a while there I actually began to believe that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan had come together and found room for compromise on a new, tougher crime bill. Both recognized just how bad things had gotten in Baltimore and that something needed to be done before we were forced to wall off the city in a remake of Escape from New York. The new crime bill made it through the Maryland Senate, looking not as strong as many might have liked, but containing some stiff new provisions to crack down on gang violence.

Then the bill came to the House of Delegates (basically the state assembly) and, in case you hadn’t guessed already, was pronounced dead on arrival. The delegates from the Baltimore area weren’t about to sign on for any crackdowns on gun violence or similar measures. Instead, they split up the measure into two different bills, gutted serious sections of it and offered “sweeteners” to get other provisions through. So much for that. (Baltimore Sun)

A House of Delegates committee on Saturday morning declared the omnibus crime measure known as Senate Bill 122 dead. Delegates said they had made changes to remove sentencing provisions that aroused opposition, but were still being inundated with demands to kill the legislation.

The number itself had become “toxic,” said Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat on the panel.

The committee approved two bills, each incorporating parts of the initial comprehensive bill that Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, had introduced and gotten approved by the Senate before House opposition arose. Both of smaller bills were approved overwhelmingly by the House later Saturday and will head to the Senate Monday.

So what changed in the new legislative package? They basically split the original bill into two parts, one which they think they can pass and the other which won’t get past the Baltimore delegates. The “easy” bill contains things like expanded wiretap authorizations for gun trace investigations and stiffer penalties for intimidating witnesses in criminal trials. Those are useful changes to be sure, not particularly game altering moves on the street level.

The other bill contains a provision for ten-year mandatory sentences for second offenses involving gun crimes. To try to force it through, they’ve added “sweeteners” including expanding the list of crimes which criminals can have expunged from their records. The expanded list includes… wait for it… some additional gun crimes. Opponents of these measures (again, mostly from the Baltimore area) are saying that’s still not good enough and it won’t pass.

What is it going to take to get these people to get serious about their gang problem? They had a chance to show criminals that the law is going to be going after them in a serious fashion. And we’re not even talking about first offenders here. These would be gang members who have already been convicted of a gun crime, been through the criminal justice system and emerged only to shoot or threaten to shoot somebody yet again. Ten years isn’t even all that much in such cases, particularly for a criminal in their 20s or 30s. You can do ten years and still come out with a reasonable amount of life ahead of you, but having lost enough of your life behind bars that you might think twice before shooting up someplace else for a third time.

Meanwhile, after a somewhat slower crime season during the cold weather, the Baltimore PD reports that two men were killed and another three injured in shootings over the past two days. But hey… don’t let that affect your voting.

There was an old radio program back in the 1930s called Gangbusters. (That’s where we get the phrase “coming on like gangbusters.”) It was about law enforcement agents who broke up large criminal gangs and brought down the hammer to do so. That’s what Baltimore is in need of today. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a modern, Elliot Ness type character available to ride to the rescue.