Rawlings-Blake to push for bills addressing police brutality complaints

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: “Trust with the police is a priority.”

As the Maryland General Assembly wraps up on Monday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is scheduled to make a last-minute plea in Annapolis for bills addressing police brutality complaints, even though most of the proposals have already been killed or are stalled in committee.

The mayor is also set to speak at noon in City Hall to discuss her "next steps" to "increase transparency and accountability" in policing, a day after she touted her plans on NBC's "Meet the Press" to equip city police with body-worn cameras amid national outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed South Carolina man.

"We're going to keep going until the very end," said the mayor's spokesman, Kevin Harris.

She faces a tough fight as lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan work to break an impasse over the budget.

The House and Senate have reached a deal on what they want in a budget package, but the governor is not on board, and the legislature needs his consent for spending it wants restored.

At stake for Marylanders is $68 million in education aid to 13 localities that are home to 80 percent of the state's public school children. Democrats also want to prevent a 2 percent pay cut for state employees and restore money for health care for pregnant women, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled and others.

The governor, meanwhile, is holding out to deliver some of the tax relief he promised Marylanders during his successful 2014 campaign — as well as an agenda that includes greater flexibility for charter schools, a tax credit for gifts to public and private schools, and an end to the requirement that the state's largest jurisdictions collect stormwater fees he calls "the rain tax."

Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of Baltimore's House delegation, said some of the nearly two dozen bills introduced by numerous lawmakers may have had a better chance of passage if such outrage had been sparked sooner and if reform proponents had been better organized. "Stiff opposition" from police unions, he said, led to the defeat of most bills. The president of Baltimore's police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, could not be reached to comment.

"Whether anything can be done in one day is probably highly unlikely," Anderson said. "I'm sure we all could have done more in terms of providing a united front."

One bill, which would have created a new felony "misconduct in office" charge for officers, was killed by the House Judiciary Committee. Only three delegates — Anderson, Del. Jill Carter of Baltimore and Del. William Campos of Prince George's County — voted to move the bill out of committee while 17 others voted against it.

Another measure that would have made it easier to discipline officers without them having the right to appeal has languished in the House Appropriations Committee.

While the mayor acknowledges the bills have little room to pass on the last day of the session, she plans to use her platform to keep the issues in the forefront.

"If we can't get a bill through this session, what can we do to keep the attention on it?" Harris said. "She's going to go up there and grab anybody she can while folks are running around on this last day, and say, 'What are your thoughts for next steps?'"

Rawlings-Blake is determined "to make sure this doesn't go away quietly," he said.

And if by some chance legislators decide to make a final push and pass the bills, Harris said, "we'll take it."

Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who heads that panel, has said she does not intend to bring it to a vote. With law enforcement organizations solidly against it, there's not enough time left in the legislative session to resolve all the concerns, she has said.

Anderson said some lawmakers have pledged to hold special hearings later this year to revisit many of the issues raised in the bills. "Had the incident in South Carolina happened a month ago there may have been a different outcome with these bills," Anderson said.

The South Carolina incident was discussed on Meet the Press on Sunday. Rawlings-Blake told the national audience that she planned to have a body camera pilot program in Baltimore by year's end — an announcement she made locally in February. She pledged to fund the program even if the city doesn't get federal funds for the cameras. The pilot program is expected to cost $1.4 million.

"You have to pay for your priorities," the mayor said. "Trust with the police is a priority."

In a case that has sparked calls for police to wear body-cameras, North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager, 33, has been charged with murder in the shooting death of Walter L. Scott, 50. Slager is white; Scott was black. Video of the shooting, contradicting the officer's version of events, was captured by a bystander.

Equipping police with body cameras has been an issue of contention between Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Last year, Young championed legislation to require all of the city's nearly 3,000 police officers to wear body cameras as part of an effort to end police brutality. Rawlings-Blake vetoed the bill, opting for a mayoral task force to study privacy issues and cost before purchasing cameras. She has argued that many practical issues have to be resolved before cameras are used, such as when officers might be expected to turn them off and how to store the footage.

A Baltimore Sun investigation last year found that city taxpayers have paid nearly $6 million since 2011 to settle 102 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.

Last day of session

Monday is the final day of the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session. For the latest updates on what's happening in Annapolis, go to baltimoresun.com

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