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Hogan calls for ‘urgent’ action on crime, bipartisanship in State of State speech

Bryan P. Sears//February 5, 2020

Hogan calls for ‘urgent’ action on crime, bipartisanship in State of State speech

By Bryan P. Sears

//February 5, 2020

Gov. Larry Hogan delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Gov. Larry Hogan delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Watch the State of the Union address here.

ANNAPOLIS —  Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called on legislators to focus on violent crime in Baltimore and lower taxes while revisiting themes of bipartisanship that he has touched on in his previous five annual addresses.

“People are being shot every single day in Baltimore City,” Hogan said during his State of the State speech Wednesday afternoon. “This is an urgent crisis, and we have an obligation to do something about it right now. There can be no more excuses and no more delays. The time has come for Baltimore City to finally take back its streets and communities once and for all, and they simply cannot do it without decisive action from this General Assembly.”

Hogan’s speech, which lasted nearly 26 minutes, broke little new ground but instead focused on priorities that he has previously announced, including a call for a reduction of violent crime in Baltimore City.

“Every issue I have talked about here today, and all of the bills you will be considering over the next 61 days, are important and worthy of debate and discussion,” said Hogan. “But none of them are nearly as important as addressing the out-of-control violent crime, the shootings, and murders that are destroying Baltimore City.”

Hogan spoke of an encounter with a Baltimore resident concerned with the violence and who asked for prayers.

“I’m a big believer in the power of prayer,” said Hogan. “And yes, we do need prayers, but prayers are not enough. We are also going to need you to take action to get these shooters off our streets.”

The governor then challenged the majority Democrat legislature to pass his crime proposals.

“If you do not consider any other legislation, and if you accomplish nothing else in the next 61 days, pass the “Violent Firearm Offenders Act of 2020,’ which increases penalties for those who use guns to commit violent crimes, toughens penalties for those who possess stolen firearms and guns with obliterated serial numbers, and those who use, possess, or supply illegal guns to violent criminals,” said Hogan.

Democratic lawmakers have responded to Hogan in recent days, saying they, too, are focused on the issue but that crime is a statewide problem, rather than just one for Baltimore, which recorded more than 300 murders for the fifth straight year.

But those same Democratic lawmakers say there is a philosophical divide between them and Hogan over how crime should be addressed and panned the Republican’s proposals

“It’s a question of smart policing,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery. “The governor is proposing some 1950s’ solutions to a 21st century problem.”

Luedtke said Democrats have proposed a package of bills that represents a “21st century solution.”

Sen. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, praised Hogan’s call for bipartisanship on crime-prevention legislation but opposes the governor’s proposal for mandatory long-term sentences for repeat gun offenders.

Smith said  mandatory minimums for violent offenders can “bear immediate fruit” for the governor, but such irreducible penalties have historically failed to reduce violent crime while having a “disparate impact” on poor minority communities, where young offenders have been imprisoned rather than rehabilitated, said Smith, whose panel will review the governor’s proposed Violent Firearm Offenders Act.

“You have done something to a generation of folk that you can’t get back,” Smith, D-Montgomery, said of mandatory minimum sentences. “We are not going to incarcerate our way out of this problem.”

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, said he agrees with Hogan’s “sense of urgency” to stem the violence in the city.

“It is a sense of urgency I don’t see from local leaders,” said Anderson, a House Judiciary Committee member. “Those of us on both sides of the aisle have to work on a solution.”

Anderson said he supports Hogan’s call to make theft of a handgun a felony and that the governor’s call for mandatory minimum sentences for repeat gun offenders is already in effect in Baltimore courtrooms. But the delegate added he opposes the governor’s proposed Judicial Transparency Act, which would require that the State Commission on Sentencing Policy compile the violent crime sentences handed down by each Maryland circuit court judge.

Education, tax issues

Hogan avoided some of his tougher comments about how to pay for a massive expansion of public education funding that is part of the Kirwan Commission recommendations. Hogan stayed away from repeating his strong opposition to raising taxes to cover the plan’s $4 billion in annual costs once it is fully phased in.

“But instead of continuing to simply debate how much more we should spend, let’s have productive discussions about how we can hold local school systems accountable for the billions of state tax dollars we are already investing, and let’s make sure those dollars are getting into the classrooms where they belong,” said Hogan. “Our bipartisan efforts should have one simple goal, and that is achieving better results for Maryland’s children.”

The governor also used his speech to touch on the other priorities of his administration, including proposed tax breaks for retirees.

“Under this plan, retirees making $50,000 or less, who are often forced to make tough choices every single day just to make ends meet, will pay no state income tax whatsoever,” Hogan said. “And all retirees earning less than $100,000 will see a tax reduction of no less than 50% and up to 100%. This is the largest tax reduction in Maryland in more than two decades. It will provide tax relief for more than 230,000 Marylanders and will help keep tens of thousands of Maryland retirees from fleeing our state.”

Those tax breaks could face a tough road as Democrats grapple with paying for Kirwan. House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, said Hogan would have to find a way to “pay for” his proposed tax cuts. Senate President William “Bill” Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, challenged Hogan to raise taxes to offset the proposed income tax reduction for retirees.

“I would love to find ways to provide tax relief to a number of different constituencies,” said Ferguson. “But at the end of the day we have to decide what parts of government do we want to fund or not. So this is a values question. If this is something where the governor is interested in raising the property taxes, which is something the Board of Public Works has the ability to do, that would be a consideration. But right now we are looking to fund core services and balancing that by giving a tax break at this time seems less than prudent.”

Redistricting proposal

Another Hogan proposal facing tough sledding is a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission.

The legislature has blocked Hogan’s attempts to pass this legislation during his first and second terms.

Ferguson said Hogan’s bill would again “receive a fair hearing” but signaled it will likely be rejected as he called on a national solution.

“That’s the best way for us to deal with this American democratic crisis,” said Ferguson. “We’ve offered up ideas of partnering with states of opposite political affiliations. The bottom line is Maryland can’t solve this problem alone.”

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in Maryland. Democrats dominate seven of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Sen. Justin Ready, a lead sponsor of Hogan’s legislative proposal for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, called Maryland’s congressional districts “bizarre and they don’t pass the smell test.”

Ready, R-Carroll, said he shares the Republican governor’s goal of creating districts that are “as nonpartisan as possible.”

Hogan also continued his call for bipartisanship, something he has done in nearly every major speech since he was first elected in 2014.

“Five years ago, during my first inaugural address, I said that the politics that have divided our nation need not divide our state, and I asked all Marylanders to seek that middle ground where we could all stand together,” he said.

Hogan, delivered his address less than 24 hours after Republican President Donald Trump gave his State of the Union speech. Hogan compared Annapolis to Washington, saying that Maryland can be an example to other states and national figures mired in deep political divisions.

“Our nation appears hopelessly and bitterly divided,” Hogan said. “Just 30 miles down the road in Washington, both parties seem to be consumed with partisanship and dysfunction. But as I look back at all we have been through and all the progress that we have made together here in Maryland over these last five years, my experiences do not burden me with dread — they fill me with hope. And I believe that in spite of all that divides us in America today, there is far more that unites us. And as America searches for healing and a path forward, let them look to us.”

Daily Record reporters Tim Curtis and Steve Lash contributed to this report.


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