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Government & Politics

Roundup: Expanded prosecutorial power approved, gun bills on the move, Blueprint board has two candidates

Lawyers’ Mall is illuminated in front of the State House on a rainy evening. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland House of Delegates granted final approval Thursday to a bill that would give the state attorney general’s office Independent Investigations Division prosecutorial power.

The vote was 99-37.

Senate Bill 290 is the first bill Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) testified on in Annapolis in February after being sworn into office one month prior.

The Independent Investigations Division was created two years ago after the legislature passed comprehensive police reform.

It currently reviews police-involved encounters that result in the death, or injuries likely to result in death, of a civilian. The office reports those findings to local state’s attorney’s offices, who determine whether to prosecute.

This year’s legislation would give the attorney general the exclusive right to prosecute police-involved deaths, unless the state agency asks prosecutors to handle the case.

The bill would also allow the division to investigate any other crimes related to police misconduct discovered during an investigation.

The division would also submit a report to the governor and General Assembly every year by Jan. 31 to include “the number of investigations that were conducted” and “number of prosecutions initiation as a result of an investigation by or a referral to the division.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Wes Moore (D) confirmed Thursday the governor will sign legislation into law.

According to a fiscal note, Maryland and nine other states have authorized an independent entity to investigate police involved deaths.

So far, none of the more than two dozen cases examined by the investigations division have been prosecuted by a state’s attorney.

Opponents of the bill, including Sen. William G. Folden (R-Frederick) said 23 of the 24 state’s attorneys didn’t approve the bill because they believe it will take away their local authority.

“You’re taking away their authority and their knowledge of the community that they serve,” he said. “We’ve already got a Department of Justice. We have a DOJ [to handle] civil rights violations. We’re making ourselves a mini-DOJ within the state of Maryland to prosecute crimes. We already have elected officials who are accountable to their citizens.”

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the legislation, said he understands the arguments those make against the bill.

“Their arguments are based on political accountability and they’re closer to the problem. But that is also the reason why this reform is necessary because there’s an inherent conflict with prosecuting and investigating officers that they work so closely with to develop cases,” he said. “This will do great things to restore and maintain trust between the community and law enforcement officers. It’s a tremendously important reform in that regard.”

Committees move gun bills

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and House Judiciary Committee recommended approval of gun bills from the opposite chambers Thursday, but with several amendments scheduled to be available online Friday.

Both pieces of legislation, already approved last month in their respective chambers, aim to decrease the number of guns on the street.

The Judiciary Committee reviewed Senate Bill 1 (called the Gun Safety Act of 2023) sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), vice chair of Judicial Proceedings.

According to the legislation currently online, it would restrict where guns can be carried. It would also prohibit carrying them at places such as a preschool, an election polling site and a theater. In addition, prohibit a person from knowingly carrying a firearm onto someone’s property without the owner’s permission.

The House committee approved several amendments that include allowing a railroad police officer and an employee who works for an armored car company to wear and carry a firearm. That amendment offered by Del. Robin Grammar Jr. (R-Baltimore County) was adopted unanimously.

Across the street in the Senate building, the Judicial Proceedings Committee approved several amendments Thursday night to House Bill 824 sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City).

The bill would establish more prohibitions on those who can possess firearms. For instance, it would prohibit firearms licenses for a person who is on supervised probation for violating a protective order, and someone who is addicted to a controlled dangerous substance or is a habitual user and “was previously convicted of a crime of violence.”

The bill proposes to double fees for a wear-and-carry permit from $75 to $150; a renewal or subsequent applications from $50 to $100; a duplicate or modified permit from $10 to $20. Clippinger has said the fees haven’t been increased since 1992.

However, the majority of the Judicial Proceedings Committee approved an amendment from Folden to slightly decrease fees by $25 for the wear-and-carry permit to $125, and applications to $75.

“Reducing the [fee] increase is only prudent,” said Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County), who voted in support of the fee changes. However, he voted against the overall measure because “I will not vote for a bill that I think is unconstitutional.”

Candidates put forward for Blueprint board

Former Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and Justin K. Robinson, a Prince George’s County educator have been nominated to fill a vacant seat on the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability and Implementation Board that oversees the state’s multi-billion-dollar education reform plan.

Gov. Wes Moore will chose either Gardner or Robinson whose names the nominating committee announced recently.

Moore’s choice will fill the seat left by Fagan Harris, who now works as the governor’s chief of staff.

A Moore spokesperson said in a text message Thursday there’s no exact time set for selecting a nominee, but it will be in the “near future.”

The governor has 30 days to appoint Gardner or Robinson. Whoever is appointed will continue Harris’ term, serving on the seven-member board through June 30, 2024.

Gardner and Robinson were selected from a list of 45 candidates that included 11 from Baltimore City, nine from Prince George’s and seven from Montgomery County, according to the board.

Twenty candidates were white, 18 were Black, three Asian, three Latino and one Afro-Latino. Of the 45 candidates, 25 were female.

The nominating committee unanimously chose Gardner and Robinson and highlighted their “areas of expertise.”

The committee noted Gardner’s “leading and implementing systemic change in complex organizations” and her “financial auditing and accounting.” Gardner served as county executive for eight years and as a president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

Among Robinson’s strengths the committee noted “early education” and “teaching in public schools.” Robinson is researching teacher attrition and is in a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University

The board is scheduled to hold its next meeting at 1 p.m. online April 13.


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Roundup: Expanded prosecutorial power approved, gun bills on the move, Blueprint board has two candidates