The black and Latino caucuses of the Maryland General Assembly took a stand Thursday against comprehensive crime bills pending in the final days of the legislative session.
The opposition comes after the House Judiciary Committee approved its version of a sweeping crime bill Wednesday night in response to legislation approved by the Senate. If the bill cannot be reconciled with a very different Senate bill by midnight Monday, it will fail despite the staunch support of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat.
The Legislative Black Caucus and its Latino counterpart have an especially strong influence in the House, where they make up almost half of the majority Democratic caucus. The House passed a bill that scales back many of the maximum sentences in the Senate bill but not enough to satisfy the two minority caucuses.
Members of the groups are concerned that any harsher sentences in the bill would fall disproportionately on minorities. Caucus members and their allies have vowed a House floor fight to prevent the bill from moving further.
In a letter to Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who chairs the Judiciary committee, black caucus Chairman Darryl Barnes said the legislation would hurt the African-American community.
"Mass incarceration has plagued African-Americans for decades and it would be injudicious to pass legislation that will negatively affect our community," said Barnes, a Prince George's County Democrat.
Proponents insist the legislation is necessary to help combat a surge in violent crime, particularly homicides, in Baltimore last year.
The Maryland Republican Party put out a statement Thursday night demanding to know where Democrats stand on the bill.
"Violent crime and gangs are a major problem in Maryland, and it's time to get tough with repeat violent offenders. However, most of the Democratic candidates for governor remain silent on this important state issue," said party Chairman Dirk Haire. "As the legislature considers the bipartisan crime bill, voters deserve a clear answer from each Democratic candidate about where they stand."