Democratic lawmakers in Maryland effectively killed a package of crime prevention bills proposed by Republican governor Larry Hogan despite support by wide majorities across the state and inside Baltimore, which has become America's deadliest large city.
Internal polling data shared with the Washington Free Beacon by Hogan's office found overwhelming support for the four bills included in the package. The Witness Intimidation Prevention Act, which strengthened penalties for harming or threatening alleged witnesses, was supported by 97 percent of Baltimore residents and 90 percent of African Americans statewide, according to the results. Maryland Democrats have said they will not give the package an up-or-down vote.
Hogan admonished Democrats for opposing public safety reforms, pointing to Baltimore's violent crime crisis as proof that the government needs to change its approach. The city saw 58 murders per 100,000 residents in 2019, a higher murder rate than that of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—countries with some of the highest crime rates in the world.
"Since the legislative session started, 104 more people have been shot and 39 people have been killed on the streets of Baltimore, and yet the legislature has not taken action on these bills," Hogan said during a Thursday press conference. "We're sitting here while Rome is burning."
Baltimore entered the national spotlight for its crime epidemic months before Democrats shot down reform attempts. During a July spat with the late Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, President Donald Trump said that Baltimore's residents are "living in hell." Though state Democrats fought the president's characterization, with state House of Delegates speaker Adrienne Jones calling the comment a "childish lashing out," they have done little to make the city safer for residents.
Hogan's legislation increases mandatory minimum sentences for convicted gang members who illegally possess guns, toughens penalties for witness intimidation, and mandates violent crime sentencing records to hold judges accountable for their decisions. State Democrats have cited concerns with the legislation's mandatory minimum sentencing increase, arguing that the policy would punish criminals too severely. Democratic state senator and Judicial Proceedings Committee chairman William Smith Jr. called the sentencing proposal "draconian." Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
State Democrats are "ignor[ing] the overwhelming will of the people" by blocking the crime package, Hogan said Thursday. The legislation received vast statewide support in an internal poll conducted by Ragnar Research Partners in December, including increased support among African Americans and residents of Baltimore.
"I don't believe there have ever been bills before the legislature that have ever had more enthusiastic, nearly unanimous support," Hogan said. "The public is literally crying out, pleading with the legislature, to take these actions."
According to the poll, 82 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of African Americans, and 85 percent of Baltimore residents indicated support for Hogan's "proposal to increase tougher sanctions for violent offenders who commit crimes with guns." Other bills in the crime package received even higher support, with 92 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of African Americans, and 97 percent of Baltimore residents backing Hogan's Witness Intimidation Prevention Act.
In response to Democratic opposition, Hogan on Thursday designated the crime package as emergency legislation, allowing the bills to take effect immediately if passed.
"The only life and death crisis is the people being shot and killed every single day on the streets of our largest city," the Maryland Republican said. "We need to stop playing politics. Pass these bills and get them to my desk so we can begin to stop the killings and get these violent shooters and murderers off the streets and behind bars so that the people of Baltimore can take back their communities once and for all."