After weeks of bitter fighting, the Maryland Senate has approved a package of anti-crime bills, including one that contains large portions of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s top legislative priority ― the Violent Firearms Offenders Act.
The compromise legislation comes after the Judicial Proceedings Committee, chaired by Democratic Montgomery County Sen. William C. Smith Jr., agreed to move forward with Hogan’s push for a raft of tougher penalties for gun offenders — but only after stripping the governor’s legislation of its six mandatory minimum sentences. Smith and other Democrats on the committee opposed such sentencing restrictions because they remove discretion from judges.
Tuesday morning, the Senate voted 43-4 to pass legislation sponsored by Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican, that included the remaining aspects of Hogan’s bill: making theft of a firearm a felony, and increasing penalties for giving someone a gun to commit a crime and for those repeatedly caught carrying illegal guns. Hough’s bill also would toughen penalties against use of a gun while engaging in drug dealing.
“Marylanders want leaders to work together to solve problems. We just did exactly that," Hough said after the vote.
“We had some tense moments at the beginning of the session when it came to crime,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who pushed for the compromise, said after the bill’s passage. “It’s a really difficult, complex, hard issue.”
But Ferguson said the package of bills that emerged from negotiations included “the legislature’s priorities and some of the governor’s priorities.”
Those voting against Hough’s bill included Baltimore Democratic senators Jill P. Carter, Cory V. McCray and Antonio Hayes; and Malcolm L. Augustine, a Prince George’s County Democrat. Carter argued the legislation was “ill-conceived” and more of the “same old tough-on-crime mentality” that has failed to reduce crime over the long term.
The rest of the package of bills passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support.