Some of the nation's most liberal cities are cracking down on their homeless populations. But Maryland may soon ban police from removing homeless people from public property.
A Democratic-backed bill in the Maryland statehouse would prevent police from enforcing Failure to Obey Lawful Orders laws, which critics say would permit homeless camps, known as "tent cities," on public property. The sponsor of the bill, Democratic delegate Sheila Ruth, said in a committee hearing that these tent cities are not harmful or dangerous to communities.
"We shouldn't be destroying homeless encampments," Ruth said.
Ruth did not respond to a request for comment.
Ruth is pushing to permit homeless encampments in Maryland as Democratic politicians roll back on similar policies across the country. The Los Angeles City Council in October banned homeless camps in 54 locations. Austin, Texas, in May overwhelmingly voted to ban public camping across the city. Seattle and Washington, D.C., have cleared out homeless camps in recent months, and New York City mayor Eric Adams (D.) on Friday released a plan to remove homeless people from public areas such as subway trains.
Baltimore City estimates that there are more than 2,000 homeless people in the city on any given night. Statewide estimates put Maryland's homeless population at more than 6,000.
Maryland Republicans say Ruth's bill is the latest example of state Democrats' misplaced priorities on criminal justice.
"The last couple of years the focus of Maryland legislators has unfortunately been to treat criminals as victims and encourage breaking the law," state senator Michael Hough told the Washington Free Beacon.
Republican state senator Justin Ready said Ruth's bill would "encourage vagrancy like they have in places like San Francisco," worsening crime in Baltimore and other poverty-stricken areas in the state.
Maryland's term-limited Republican governor, Larry Hogan, is using his final months in office to press for a $500 million "Refund the Police" package and bills for tougher sentences for violent criminals. The Free Beacon reported in November that 88 percent of African-American Marylanders back Hogan's Refund the Police initiative.
Democratic state legislators in 2020 spiked Hogan's bills on tougher sentences and judicial transparency, even though polling showed near-unanimous support for his tough-on-crime reforms among Baltimore residents and African Americans across the state.