Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled a sweeping package of anti-crime initiatives Thursday that deal with repeat rapists, drunk drivers, victims' rights and sex trafficking.
At a State House news conference attended by elected officials from both parties, the Republican governor pledged a bipartisan effort to enact the legislation. In past years, similar bills have failed in the General Assembly without the power of the governor's office behind them.
"Making Maryland safer begins with making sure that we have a criminal justice system that holds offenders accountable for their actions and the harm they cause, while also supporting victims and the community in the process of healing," Hogan said.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, a Democrat, sat in the front row as Hogan adopted her pet cause: making the past convictions of defendants charged with rape and other sexual assault crimes admissible in court when the defendant challenges their accusers' veracity.
"This is something we've been pushing for the past four years, and I'm so grateful to the governor," Mosby said after Hogan's announcement.
She pointed to the case of Nelson Bernard Clifford, a Baltimore man who won acquittal in four sexual assault cases by saying the acts were consensual. In May 2015, he was convicted of third-degree sex offense and theft and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
At his trials, prosecutors were barred from introducing evidence from prior cases in which he had been convicted.
The legislation backed by Hogan would open the door to using such evidence in more cases.
It would apply to adult defendants who claim a child accuser was lying about the incident, or who claim an adult accuser gave consent to a sex act, Mosby said. That, she said, would bring state law more into line with federal standards.
The package Hogan endorsed Thursday continued his pattern of cherry-picking popular measures previously proposed by Democrats.
Sen. Jim Brochin, who has sponsored versions of the repeat sex offender bill for many years, said the Senate has passed them several times, but the House of Delegates has not.
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposal as described in a summary released by the governor's office differs from previous bills in a key way — it allows evidence of prior sex offense convictions to be used, not just allegations.
"It makes it a little more realistic," the Prince George's County Democrat said. "I'm not sure whether it'll pass or not. ... Conviction would make a whole lot of difference, in my opinion."
Democrats also previously proposed tougher penalties for repeat drunk drivers.
Building on his vocal support last year for Noah's Law, which expanded the use of ignition interlock devices in vehicles, Hogan proposed a maximum 10-year sentence for drivers convicted of a third or subsequent offense of driving while intoxicated. The same penalty would apply to drivers who kill or seriously injure someone while committing a second or subsequent drunk-driving offense.
Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA in Maryland, said the group supports Hogan's effort to "hold repeat drunk drivers accountable."
The governor also proposed legislation to deal with sex trafficking. The proposal gives local social service agencies greater ability to report to law enforcement as sexual abuse cases of suspected trafficking that do not involve family members or caretakers.
Sen. Susan Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat who serves on a sex trafficking task force, said that while the governor's move is required by federal law, Hogan had the choice of doing it through regulation or legislation.
Lee said the measure could help clarify what to do in cases where a parent or family member traffics a young victim.
"This way it's a little more crystal clear," she said. "This is really a way to help the victim get out of this victimization of what we believe is 21st-century slavery."
Hogan also said his administration will provide $5 million in new funding in his next budget to provide crime victims with transitional housing for up to one year. He said that in many cases victims get cut off from their support systems and become homeless.
On drunk driving, Del. Kathleen Dumais, vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, said she was open to considering a longer maximum sentence for people convicted of three or more offenses.
However, she cautioned that simply imprisoning people for longer spells was not necessarily the best approach.
The Montgomery County Democrat compared the governor's proposed bill to Noah's Law, which expanded the requirement for drunk-driving offenders to have lock-out systems installed in their cars.
That measure doesn't hurt offenders' ability to work and take care of their families, she said.