A Bigger Toolbox
Rawlings-Blake’s Annapolis agenda heavy on anti-crime proposals this year
Published: January 29, 2014
The majority of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s proposals before the Maryland General Assembly this year seek to add to authorities’ crime-fighting toolbox, a shift from last year’s effort, which resulted mostly in new laws geared toward propping up the city’s fiscal health. The pivot toward crime proposals is understandable, given that Baltimore’s tally of murders and non-fatal shootings rose in 2013, a year when most cities saw continuing reductions.
Of the Rawlings-Blake administration’s seven bills that have been introduced at this year’s 90-day legislative session, four would provide new anti-crime strategies cracking down on gangs, fugitives, those who assault law enforcers, and illegal dumpers. The other three pertain to property tax credits, immigrant children, and the city’s needle-exchange program to reduce the spread of AIDS.
House Bill 311/Senate Bill 265: Tracking Gangsters
Baltimore’s law enforcers say gang activity has driven recent crime spikes, and this measure would allow them to build data on criminals whose conduct is believed to be tied to gangs. In essence, says Rawlings-Blake press secretary Caron Brace, the proposal would create a new “data-collection tool” so that judges could “track repeat offenders with multiple gang crime convictions” and “consider their record in making sentencing determinations.”
The idea, adds Brace, is modeled after a domestic-violence law enacted in 2012 that “allowed for a person convicted of a domestic violence-related assault to be tagged” as such in criminal-justice databases. The resulting data would not be “common knowledge,” Brace says, but would only be “available to those with access to information housed within the Criminal Justice Information System Central Repository,” which generally is limited to officials in the criminal-justice system, such as police, prosecutors, judges, and probation agents.
The bills are scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. before the House Judiciary Committee, and on Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
House Bill 312/Senate Bill 264: Protecting Meter Maids
Among Baltimore City’s myriad law enforcers are two—“special parking enforcement” and “special traffic enforcement” officers—who hand out parking tickets and traffic citations. People who get their hackles up over being stung for such infractions, and may be tempted to lay a hand on one of these officers, should make sure to check their tempers should this measure become law. It’ll penalize those convicted of assaulting them while they’re on duty with a maximum 10-year prison sentence and up to a $5,000 fine, the same as if they’d assaulted an on-duty cop or probation agent.
As with the gangster-tracking measure, the House bill is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. before the Judiciary Committee, and the Senate bill will be heard by the Judicial Proceedings Committee on Feb. 12 at 1 p.m.
House Bill 313/Senate Bill 266: No Tax Refunds for Fugitives
Let’s say you’re the subject of an outstanding warrant for having allegedly committed a crime. Chances are, you’d know this already—but if you don’t, and this measure passes, you’d find out after you file your taxes, claiming a refund. That’s because you won’t get one. The proposal would order the Maryland comptroller to withhold refunds to Baltimore City residents who have outstanding warrants and to anyone with outstanding warrants issued from Baltimore City. If your claimed return is high enough, you may find it in your financial interest to surrender and face the charges.
The House Ways and Means Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing, but the Senate version is scheduled for Budget and Taxation Committee consideration on Jan. 29 at 1:45 p.m.
House Bill 386/Senate Bill 390: Don’t Dump and Drive
Illegal dumping, as opposed to two-bit littering, pretty much requires the use of a vehicle—and convicted dumpers would find their auto insurance rates skyrocket if this proposal becomes law. It would add eight points to their driver’s licenses, making them a much more serious risk to insurers. According to information provided by Brace, each year the city spends upwards of $16 million cleaning up the mess illegal dumpers leave behind, so the idea here is to make the dumpers pay dearly too so maybe they’ll stop being such nuisances.
The House bill is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. before the Judiciary Committee, while the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing.
House Bill 314/Senate Bill 267: Keeping Tax Credits for New Homes
In the first year after they buy newly constructed or substantially rehabilitated homes, owners in Baltimore City are eligible for property-tax credits of 50 percent, with the credit dropping 10 percent in each of the subsequent four years, after which they pay full taxes on their homes. The provision will expire this year if the General Assembly and the Baltimore City Council don’t reauthorize it. This measure, though, would repeal the amnesty provisions that previously allowed owners who missed application deadlines to gain eligibility—so everyone will need to get their paperwork in order on time from here on out.
The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 6 at 1 p.m., while the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5 at 1 p.m.
House Bill 315/Senate Bill 396: Helping Immigrant Youngsters
Baltimore’s reputation as an immigrant-friendly city will grow should this measure become law, allowing immigrant children up to the age of 21 to petition local courts for the appointment of a guardian or custodian to help them navigate our society’s unfamiliar systems. The proposal would make those with “special immigrant juvenile status” under federal law, which gives them benefits up until their 21st birthday, eligible for Circuit Court guardianship appointments up until the same time, instead of the current cut-off date after they turn 18—a change that, according to information provided by Brace, will help an additional 2,000 people each year.
The House bill is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. before the Judiciary Committee, while the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing.
House Bill 354/Senate Bill 263: All the Clean Needles You Need
Needle-exchange programs like Baltimore’s have been public-health success stories, helping to reduce the spread of AIDS by reducing the prevalence of already-used hypodermic needles and syringes among injection-drug users. Its only drawback has been the exchange rate: Turn in one used needle and syringe, get a new one in return. This proposal would repeal that requirement so that participants can get all the clean needles they need while turning in as many dirty ones as they can—a liberalizing step that should help promote the one-time-only use that public-health experts say will help stem the spread of deadly diseases.
The House bill’s Health and Government Operations Committee hearing has yet to be scheduled, while the Senate version’s hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. before the Finance Committee.
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