House GOP Wants to Get Tough on Crime

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) with Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) at a State House news conference earlier this year. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Maryland House Republicans unveiled a package of bills Thursday targeting violent crime and transparency that will aim to tackle what Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) described as a “violent crime crisis.”

“Baltimore City may be ground zero for the plague of violent crime, but this is not just a city problem,” Kipke said during a news conference in Annapolis, citing increases in homicides in Baltimore County and a growing number of sex crimes in Montgomery County. 

Addressing violent crime has been at the center of a lot of conversations as the General Assembly session unfolds. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) has discussed his desire to quash violent crime in Baltimore City, increasing the amount of money allotted for crime-busting efforts in his proposed budget released Wednesday.

Republican lawmakers’ priorities align with Hogan’s.

At the news conference, Kipke and House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) announced the caucus’ intention to rally behind several pieces of legislation designed to decrease crime rates and increase judicial transparency across the state, including:

  • Stopping Dangerous and Violent Criminals Act of 2020

The bill would aim to provide that individuals incarcerated for violent crimes serve a minimum of 90% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole — unlike current law, which stipulates that they fulfill about half of their prison term before being considered for parole. 

  • Protecting Marylanders from Violent Crime Act of 2020

Kipke is introducing this bill, which would force local governments to cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for detainers — when law enforcement agencies detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after his or her release date to provide ICE agents extra time to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody for removal purposes. Kipke cited “political correctness” as one of the reasons why potentially violent individuals are re-released into Maryland communities. 

  • Gun Theft Is a Felony Act of 2020

If enacted, the bill would elevate the act of stealing a gun from a misdemeanor to a felony charge.

  • Victim Empowerment and Plea Deals Act of 2020

This bill would provide for victims of violent crimes to verify that they were notified of any plea agreements accepted by their alleged perpetrator, and would further allow them to weigh in about the agreement in court records.

  • Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2020

The resurgence of a failed bill sponsored by Kipke and Szilega during the 2019 session would allow for judges to permit the limited broadcast of video from inside of courtrooms during sentencing hearings. Current law, with rare exceptions, typically disallows the use of any camera or recording device in criminal proceedings.

  • Truth in Plea Deals Act of 2020

If written into law, this would mandate that any parameters for plea deals accepted for crimes with minimum sentencing requirements fall within those minimum requirements, preventing shortened sentences for violent crimes.

“This violent crime issue is a crisis,” Kipke said. “The governor’s talking about it, but there are very few others in this legislature talking about it.”

While Democrats who control both chambers of the legislature have been focused on education reform, Kipke argued that unlike education, crime is an immediate crisis.

Kipke said that when he asks Democrats if they believe these issues have value for their constituents he receives answers in the affirmative.

“I know how the system works in Annapolis. A lot of times the majority party might want to take credit for something,” said Kipke. “I encourage the majority party to steal these ideas — we’ll support it wholeheartedly. This isn’t a partisan thing: This is a life and death thing.”

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.