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Crime at Top of General Assembly Agenda

Rachel Baye

The Maryland General Assembly begins its annual 90-day session Wednesday in Annapolis, and reducing violent crime in Baltimore is at the top of political leaders’ agendas.

“The level of violence here in Baltimore City is completely unacceptable,” Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday as he introduced a new slate of initiatives designed to target that violence.

The package includes funding the Baltimore City Police can use to recruit new officers and a new joint operation center, from which law enforcement from 16 agencies will target violent crime in Baltimore.

Hogan also plans to reintroduce legislation that failed in the General Assembly last year.

“The legislature failed to pass our bill for tougher mandatory sentences for repeat offenders who commit crimes with guns,” he said. “We will introduce — reintroduce — the repeat firearms offenders act of 2019.”

Senate President Mike Miller said he is backing initiatives Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has requested to strengthen city policing, including a new police training center at Coppin State University.

He also supports allowing Johns Hopkins University to create its own police force, which the university says it needs to combat crime on and near its campuses. A bill to do that failed during last year’s session, but Miller said he expects it to make a comeback.

“Right now, the college is spending some $27 million on a hodgepodge of police protection,” Miller said. “It needs to be centralized, and the students, the faculty and everybody in the area needs to be protected.”

Incoming Sen. Mary Washington, whose district includes Hopkins’ main campus, firmly opposes the idea. In a Facebook post last month, she said that while the University of Maryland and Morgan State University have their own police, they are publicly funded and accountable to citizens. Johns Hopkins, on the other hand, is private.

Statewide, Sen. Joanne Benson, from Prince George’s County, has introduced a ban on 3-D printed guns.

“In addition to prohibiting someone from possessing, selling or transferring a 3-D printed gun, it also prohibits the ownership of the computer language or the blueprint for such a gun,” Benson described.

Democrats’ priorities also include several environment-focused initiatives.

Styrofoam is already banned in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as Baltimore City and the City of Annapolis. Sen. Cheryl Kagan, from Montgomery County, hopes to ban it statewide.

“A lot of people may not be aware that if they drink a hot liquid from a Styrofoam cup or take home their Chinese food leftovers in a Styrofoam container, that they have the potential of drinking or eating cancerous chemicals,” she said. “Unfortunately Styrofoam also doesn’t break down, and it’s not easily recycled.”

A bill requiring the state to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030 didn’t make it during last year’s session, but Montgomery County Sen. Brian Feldman, the lead sponsor in the Senate, is optimistic about its odds this year.

“Particularly now in light of all the work, all the research coming out of the federal government in the past couple of weeks about the need to move away from fossil fuels and climate change and the end of the world, … there's an urgency this year that I think wasn't the case last year,” Feldman said during an interview last month.

Also expected to make a comeback after failing last year is a bill creating an individual mandate to buy health insurance. It’s modeled after the mandate that was until recently part of the federal Affordable Care Act, including a fine charged to residents without health insurance, but with one big difference:  Maryland residents would be allowed to treat the fine as a down payment on an insurance plan.

Democrats appear to be lining up behind the proposal, but Hogan has said he doesn’t support it.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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