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First 100 days provides Brown with some legislative victories

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

When Anthony Brown stood at the rostrum in the House of Delegates after he was sworn in as Maryland’s first Black attorney general in January, he outlined his priorities for the 2023 General Assembly session.

In the months since, the legislature granted Brown’s office statutory authority to enforce federal and state civil rights laws and also give its Independent Investigations Division power to prosecute police-involved deaths and injuries.

Those are just two pieces of legislation to receive approval as Brown marks 100 days in office on Thursday.

“The Office of Attorney General had a great legislative session…and for the last 90 days, [we] did everything we could to make sure we have the authorities and the resources to protect the rights and interests of Marylanders,” he said in an interview Tuesday at the State House in Annapolis. “In this legislative session, we got that done.”

A major bill approved – Senate Bill 540 – will allow the attorney general’s office to not only enforce civil rights law, but also bring class action lawsuits. Part of the work will be done in conjunction with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, an independent agency that mostly handles individual cases in matters of employment, housing, public accommodations and state contracts.

However, the legislation notes it will prohibit from bringing any action against “any unit or employee of state or local government…” or against an employee working or an agent working for the government or political subdivision “who is acting under the color of law.”

The bill, slated to go into effect Oct. 1, will focus on private entities that violate civil rights. The attorney general has highlighted how at least 21 other states including neighboring Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., grant their attorney generals that statutory authority.

“It’s going to be a type of collaborative relationship. I don’t think it will be any type of conflict,” Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the commission, said in an interview Wednesday. “We welcome more players in the struggle to address civil rights violations…and being able to deal with systemic discrimination which lead up to individual harm.”

Brown has also continued some of the work of his predecessor Brian Frosh (D), who retired.

Frosh led a yearslong investigation into the Baltimore Catholic Archdiocese on allegations of rape, torture and other forms of abuse. In 2019, his office rehired Elizabeth Embry, now a state delegate representing parts of Baltimore City, to lead the inquiry.

In one of his last duties as attorney general, Frosh filed a motion in Baltimore City Circuit Court in November to release the report. Brown’s office released the 463-page redacted report last week.

On Wednesday, Brown announced 11 people were indicted for prison contraband conspiracy for smuggling drugs and other illegal items at Jessup Correctional Institution. The investigation, which began in April 2021, featured the attorney general’s organized crime unit, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and Anne Arundel County Police Department.

Meanwhile, Gov. Wes Moore (D) conducted his first bill signing Tuesday, which included two pieces of legislation directly affecting the attorney general’s office: legislation named after former Sen. Delores Kelley that goes after unlicensed assisted living facilities; and one that would require licensed cigarette wholesalers to disclose every brand of cigarettes sold, invoices and other information to the state comptroller.

The office also received funding in this year’s budget to nearly double the organized crime unit, a request Brown made during his swearing-in ceremony Jan. 3.

During a brief interview Wednesday, Brown said his 16 years of experience in Annapolis – eight as a member of the House of Delegates and eight as lieutenant governor – and another six years representing the 4th Congressional district on Capitol Hill allows him to be “an effective attorney general.”

“What you don’t necessarily need is someone with 25 years in the courtroom because that’s only a small portion of what you do as the attorney general,” he said.

Other bills

Besides the civil rights enforcement bill, other legislation that could affect the attorney general’s office if signed into law are:

Senate Bill 290 – grants the Independent Investigations Division the exclusive right to prosecute police-involved deaths, unless the state agency asks local prosecutors to handle the case.

House Bill 775/Senate Bill 542 – will limit non-seasonal price increases on essential goods and services to 15% during a state of emergency. In addition, the bill would allow the governor power during a state of emergency to designate essential goods and services.

House Bill 874/Senate Bill 611 – establishes the “Environmental and Natural Resources Crimes Unit,” previously called Environmental Crimes Unit in attorney general’s office. It expands the unit’s authority to investigate and prosecute those who break state criminal environmental and natural resources laws. If signed into law, the unit will have additional subpoena power and other resources.

House Bill 759/Senate Bill 615 – would require the governor’s Office of Crime, Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services to establish a statewide sexual assault evidence kit reporting and tracking system. In addition, would require any party with custody of the kit to enter its status and location into the system.

House Bill 758/Senate Bill 789 – would extend the time law enforcement agencies and hospitals have to preserve sexual assault evidence kits from 20 years to 75 years.

Not all legislation was able to get approved.

Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), who led passage of the sexual assault kit legislation, pushed to establish a correctional ombudsman in the attorney general’s office to oversee the state Department of Corrections.

The bill passed in the Senate, but died in the House Rules Committee.

“I did see the attorney general yesterday and he came up and would like to work on that bill for next session,” Hettleman said Wednesday. “It’s definitely disappointing it didn’t come through this year. This bill is something I’ve worked on for a couple of years now. I will look forward what we can do in the interim to make sure it gets through both [chambers] next year.”

Brown said he’s committed to work with the senator on this legislation.

“That is an important office she is trying to create,” he said. “I think oversight is warranted.”


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First 100 days provides Brown with some legislative victories