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Senate Advances Crime-Fighting Package

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) sits in front of committee vice chair Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) and fellow committee member Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City). File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland Senate on Tuesday passed a series of bills aimed at fighting crime in the state, including priorities of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. and Democratic leaders.

By a 43-4 vote, the chamber passed Senate Bill 35, which includes elements from Hogan’s top priority, The Violent Firearm Offenders Act.

The measure’s passage comes after weeks of negotiation and a bitter public battle between the Hogan administration and Democratic senators, who opposed the bill’s original inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences.

The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) and now crosses over to the House, would make theft of a firearm a felony and increase penalties for repeatedly illegally possessing a firearm, knowingly giving a gun to someone who plans to commit a crime, and using a gun while dealing drugs.

The measure also includes a provision pressed by Democratic senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee that would provide people being released from prison with a “reentry kit,” including clothing, a week’s worth of basic toiletries, a state identification card and information about transportation and medical care.

Four Democrats voted against the bill on the Senate floor: Senators Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s), Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City).

Carter opposed the measure during committee deliberations, saying the bill reflected “the same-old harsh penalties, tough-on-crime mentality that got us into the situation that we’re in in Baltimore City.”

Also on Tuesday, the chamber unanimously approved a bill from Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) that would establish local councils to create regional comprehensive crime control plans.

The chamber also voted 43-4 to send the P.R.O.T.E.C.T. Act from Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D), chairman of Baltimore’s Senate delegation, to the House. That measure would require the state to identify 10 high-crime micro-zones and target additional crime-fighting resources in those areas. Hayes’ amended bill would also extend Maryland State Police jurisdiction to patrol major “entry and exit corridors” in the city including Interstate 83 and I-295 and require the state to draft a plan to reduce the number of uniformed Baltimore Police Department officers at the Baltimore City Juvenile Booking Facility.

The Senate chamber has also moved on other top crime-fighting priorities in recent days, including measures to address witness intimidation by making it easier for prosecutors to admit statements in court, to increase annual reporting on decisions made by circuit court judges, and to place greater scrutiny on testimony offered by in-custody witnesses against another defendant.

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Senate Advances Crime-Fighting Package