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Maryland Gov. Hogan presses lawmakers to act on ‘out of control crime’ in Baltimore

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) delivers his sixth State of the State address to a joint session of the Maryland General Assembly at the State House on February 5. 2020.

During his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan pressed lawmakers to act on the “out of control crime” that is “destroying Baltimore City.”

“People are being shot every single day in Baltimore City,” the Republican governor told Maryland’s General Assembly in Annapolis. “This is an urgent crisis and we have an obligation to do something about it right now.” Baltimore, the state’s largest city, has suffered from more than 300 homicides a year for five consecutive years.

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Democrats responded by arguing that Hogan is trying to deflect blame for rising violence from himself, noting that crime has gone up during his five years in office and saying that many criminals charged in Baltimore could have been better supervised by state law enforcement agencies.

The issue of Baltimore violence is emerging as a point of contention in the General Assembly session. Hogan, Republican lawmakers and Democratic lawmakers have all proposed bills aimed at either further punishing criminals or preventing crime.

Several of Hogan’s proposals are ones that have failed repeatedly in the Democratic-led General Assembly.

“The time has come for Baltimore City to finally take back its streets and communities once and for all, and they simply cannot do it without decisive action from this General Assembly,” Hogan said.

The governor’s focus on Baltimore made for a few uncomfortable moments for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who was seated among dignitaries in the House of Delegates chamber for the speech.

“I sat there and almost cringed in my seat. Really, I did,” said Young, a Democrat who is running this year to win a full, four-year term.

Young said it was frustrating to hear Hogan “talking about Baltimore when crime is up in some of the surrounding counties, as well. You know, just don’t pinpoint Baltimore.”

That said, Young said he’d review Hogan’s proposals to see if they have merit. He’s hopeful the governor will send more money to the Baltimore Police Department to improve technology to track crime trends.

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“If the governor wants to be a partner, I’m open,” Young said.

Hogan said his priority is the Violent Firearms Offenders Act, which combines multiple ideas: increasing penalties for certain offenders who use guns, for people who give or sell guns to someone they know will commit a crime, and for anyone who destroys a firearm’s serial number.

Lawmakers have previously declined to approve a Hogan proposal to increase penalties for certain repeat offenders who use guns. In 2018, lawmakers passed a similar bill, and a nonpartisan analysis showed Hogan’s version would have meant longer sentences for only 13 offenders that year.

Hogan’s latest version, with its additional provisions, could mean longer sentences for more than 800 offenders a year, according to a nonpartisan analysis from the Department of Legislative Services.

To emphasize his points about crime, Hogan invited Marvin McDowell of West Baltimore’s UMAR Boxing as his guest for the speech. The governor praised McDowell for his mentorship of young people in hopes of helping them avoid becoming involved in crime.

“He is not just teaching them boxing skills and discipline — he’s also teaching them life skills and giving them hope,” Hogan said.

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Democratic lawmakers remained skeptical of the governor’s proposals and intentions.

Del. Stephanie Smith, chairwoman of Baltimore’s delegation in the House, said Hogan could do more to combat crime, such as fully funding and staffing the state’s Division of Parole and Probation. Twenty-five percent of Baltimore murder suspects are on parole or probation.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he agrees that “there needs to be more urgency” to reduce violence in Maryland.

Ferguson said Democratic lawmakers are concerned, however, about the governor’s emphasis on mandatory minimum sentences. He said lawmakers want to make sure the governor’s proposals are “evidence-based” and will have a “real impact” before passing them.

“We focus more on the flow of illegal weapons,” Ferguson said. “We believe we’ve got to have a laser-like focus on getting illegal guns off the street.”

Republicans said they were pleased with Hogan’s approach.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Harford County Republican who is Senate minority leader, said Hogan was correct to press the legislature to do more to combat violence in Baltimore.

“He said it best, if we don’t pass anything else this session, we have to do something about crime,” Jennings said. “We will have failed if we don’t do something about crime.”

Hogan also touched on another focus of lawmakers during this General Assembly session: improving public education.

Lawmakers are looking at how to raise billions to implement recommendations from the state’s Kirwan Commission, which studied ways to improve the public school system.

Hogan has repeatedly blasted lawmakers for promoting the Kirwan reforms — such as raising teacher salaries, expanding prekindergarten and improving career and college preparation — without having a funding plan.

“Instead of continuing to simply debate how much more we should spend, let’s have productive discussions about how we can hold local school systems accountable for the billions of state tax dollars we are already investing,” the governor said.

Smith sought to tie together what she described as Hogan’s call for a “law and order” solution to crime with a need to improve public schools and access to jobs and transportation.

“I don’t see how anyone can have a serious conversation on public safety in a sustainable way and be lukewarm about properly funding our education,” she said. “It’s just completely disconnected from reality because a well-educated populace is less inclined to pursue criminality.”

Hogan mentioned one education issue where there is bipartisan agreement, which is how to pay to speed up construction projects at public schools. Hogan and Democrats have introduced separate but similar bills that would use a portion of casino revenues to pay off bonds on $2.2 billion worth of additional construction projects.

Hogan also mentioned a few of his other priorities, including enacting a tax cut for retirement income and requiring a nonpartisan process for drawing political districts after the next Census.

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The governor touted what he says are his accomplishments over his first five years in office: funding for transit in the Washington region, reaching a deal to expand the Howard Street railroad tunnel in Baltimore and pushing back against the federal government’s lack of enforcement of Chesapeake Bay pollution limits.

And, as is typical for Hogan’s speeches, the governor made proclamations about bipartisanship and how Maryland politicians can — and should — avoid the divisiveness that plagues politics in Washington, D.C.

Del. Eric Luedtke, the House majority leader, said Hogan could follow his own advice, especially when it comes to figuring out ways to improve public education.

“He says, ‘Let’s be bipartisan,’ and then very rarely actually comes to the table with us,” said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat. “So, I appreciate his commitment to bipartisanship, but we just need to see a little bit more of it in action.”

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