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Tomlinson: Baltimore crime should be primary concern of General Assembly, but city reps’ priorities misplaced

On Thursday, Baltimore City’s 25th killing of 2020 occurred in West Baltimore in the middle of the day. There was another later that night.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the city ended last year with 348 homicides. The total number of killings in 2019 was second only to the total in 1993, when Baltimore had a record 353 murders. One should note, however, that the city has 125,000 fewer residents in 2019 than it had in 1993.

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One would think that Baltimore’s politicians are using every waking moment to pass laws aimed at decreasing the number of murders. Well, think again.

In November, the Baltimore City Council banned retail stores from giving customers plastic bags when checking out. In the General Assembly, Sen. Cory McCray, a Democrat representing Northeast Baltimore, has introduced a bill this session that will require certain members of the Baltimore Police Department’s command staff to reside in the city. Baltimore’s favorite son, Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat who leads the legislature’s democratically controlled upper body, is focused and passionate about passing a bill that will establish a new funding formula for public schools, as recommended by the Kirwan Commission, with a price tag of nearly $4 billion.

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Why are Baltimore’s legislators not confronting the city’s homicide problem head on?

Instead, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the House of Delegates’ minority caucus, the Republicans, have grabbed the bull by the horns and have introduced a number of bills to combat violent crime not only in Baltimore, but across the entire state. At a news conference Wednesday, Republican Nic Kipke, the House minority leader, roared, “This General Assembly is doing nothing to protect people in our communities. It is shameful!”

One of the bills filed by the caucus is the Stopping Dangerous and Violent Offenders Act of 2020. This legislation would change the requirement that those convicted of a violent crime must serve at least 50% of his or her sentence, raising it to 90%. Another bill, the Gun Theft is a Felony Act of 2020, would do just as the title suggests — change the theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony. Hogan’s Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2020 will toughen the penalties for “those who repeatedly illegally carry firearms … those who illegally transfer guns to people they know intend to use them in a crime … those who steal firearms, possess stolen firearms, or engage in straw purchasing,” as stated in a news release from the governor.

House Republicans decided to introduce the Protecting Marylanders from Violent Crime Act of 2020 after seeing that some local governments are not cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. This bill “requires State and local corrections officials to comply with ICE detainers on the worst offenders,” according to a House minority caucus news release. Over the past few years, ICE has said, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have ignored ICE detainers and have released criminally charged and convicted illegals back to the streets. Law enforcement in all local jurisdictions in Maryland should work hand-in-hand with ICE when it comes to turning over dangerous illegal aliens who commit serious crimes.

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Multiple bills have been introduced that will shine light on the judicial system and improve transparency. The Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2020 will allow the media to film the sentencing portion of a criminal trial, an important element of the judicial system that is currently hidden from public view. Hogan’s Judicial Transparency Act of 2020 “will require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to track and publish detailed information on the sentences that are handed down by judges for violent crimes,” as stated in a news release. These bills will allow the public to hold those working in our justice system accountable.

In addition to announcing new legislation, Hogan announced in December that he will fund 25 new prosecutor positions for the attorney general to assist in prosecuting violent crimes in Baltimore City, and provide Baltimore and the city’s State’s Attorney’s Office with an extra $21 million to battle crime. “The time has come for Baltimore City to finally take back its streets and communities once and for all,” Hogan said.

Some folks in Carroll believe that crime in Baltimore does not affect us out here in our beautiful rural county. However, look no further than Baltimore County. The crime from the city has trickled into Baltimore County, resulting in an 85% increase in the homicide rate in 2019 as compared to 2018. If city crime can leak into Baltimore County, how long until it makes its way up Md. 140 or Md. 26 into Carroll? Furthermore, a large majority of Carroll’s workforce commutes outside of the county every day, with many heading to the city. I commute to Baltimore almost daily, and just last month a man was shot and killed at noon outside of the Royal Farms Arena, minutes from my office. Baltimore’s problems are not isolated, and we cannot ignore them.

“While Baltimore City is averaging nearly one homicide per day, all we have heard from the other side of the aisle so far this session is how to protect our citizens from plastic bags, chatter about expanding gambling, and looking for new and creative ways to increase our taxes,” Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican and the House minority whip, said in a news release. Thankfully, the Republicans in Maryland’s House of Delegates and the governor have stepped up to the plate and refuse to allow the crime in Baltimore to further spiral out of control. “We cannot delay in making our state safer. We must do something now,” Szeliga said.

Christopher Tomlinson, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, writes from Melrose. Email him at CCTtomlinson@gmail.com.

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