Maryland House declares comprehensive crime bill 'dead,' passes two separate measures

Maryland lawmakers made progress Saturday on a package of bills intended to grapple with violent crime, especially in Baltimore.

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.

One bill includes parts of the comprehensive bill that have been less controversial. It would expand the wiretapping authority of Maryland prosecutors to gun investigations. It would increase penalties for witness intimidation — a significant problem in Baltimore. It would also make it easier to prosecute sellers of fentanyl, a major contributor to a nationwide spike in overdose deaths, as volume dealers.

Another bill combines some of the more hotly disputed elements of the comprehensive bill with a “sweetener” intended to placate opponents and to attract the votes of moderate lawmakers.

It would keep the omnibus bill’s 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for a second offense of using a firearm during a felony — a sticking point for advocates of criminal justice reform — but combine it with an expansion of offenses that are eligible for expungement, the process for erasing a person’s criminal record.

Caryn York, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force, said the first bill is “palatable.” But even though she and her allies favor expanded expungement, she said the provision wasn’t tempting enough to get them to support the mandatory minimums in the other bill.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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