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The Daily Record's law news blog

Law professors call omnibus crime bill unconstitutional

Zirkin says 'stop making excuses'

Fifteen local law professors have given opponents of an omnibus anti-crime bill a constitutional argument against the legislation that seeks to stiffen penalties for firearm violations while providing assistance to community programs aimed at curbing violence.

The scholars from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and University of Baltimore School of Law say the bill’s smorgasbord of provisions violates the “single-subject rule” of Article III Section 29 of the Maryland Constitution, which states that “every law enacted by the General Assembly shall embrace but one subject.”

The professors note that the bill seeks to amend a half-dozen articles of the Maryland Code, including Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Health, Public Safety, and State Finance and Procurement.

The bill “simply seeks to comprehend too much,” stated Doug Colbert and Colin Starger, the two lead professors in the letter sent Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee before it voted 12-7 in favor of an amended version of the Senate-passed measure.

“Compliance with the single-subject rule is essential to maintain the integrity of the legislative process,” added Colbert and Stenger, UM Carey and UB Law, respectively. “It ensures full and reasoned debate on important points of public policy. The variety of topics covered in (Senate Bill) 122 deserve full and proper consideration on their separate merits.”

The professors called for the lawmakers to reject “a bill with such grave procedural deficiencies.”

But Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, the bill’s chief sponsor, said the legislation does address a single subject: ensuring that repeat violent gun offenders are punished.

“We should keep our eyes on the ball here (and) stop making excuses as to why violent offenders should not be held accountable,” said Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “Criminals who repeatedly commit violent crimes with guns ought to be taken off our streets.”

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