‘Life and death crisis’ in Baltimore leads Hogan to push crime bills

By: Jeff Barnes

Baltimore City- A view of the city at night

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND — Calling it a “life and death crisis,” — particularly in Baltimore — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced Thursday he will redesignate his violent crime package as emergency legislation.

The emergency designation would allow the legislation, a package of bills led by a measure to increase penalties for certain gun crimes, to take effect immediately upon Hogan’s approval. The bills would first need to pass each chamber of the General Assembly with a three-fifth’s majority.

During a State House press conference, Hogan voiced his frustration with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for focusing on a proposed multibillion-dollar overhaul of the state’s public schools — known as the Kirwan Commission plan — while failing to advance his violent crime package.

“We don’t want to hear any more excuses. There cannot be any more delays,” Hogan said.

Hogan’s bills — The Violent Firearm Offenders Act, The Judicial Transparency Act, The Witness Intimidation Act of 2020 and The Victims’ Right to Restitution Act of 2020 — have yet to advance out of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee since being heard on Feb. 6. The cross-filed bills were heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 4.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, took exception to Hogan’s claim that the legislature was not making crime a top priority.

“The bills have already been heard, I think it’s about making sure that they actually do something,” Ferguson said after the Senate session Thursday. “Not only have they gotten a fair hearing, they are a constant conversation of our leadership.”

During his press conference, the Republican governor scoffed at a comment made Monday by Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young during testimony for Kirwan-related legislation, in which the Democrat mayor called the schools plan “a matter of life and death.”

Since the 2020 General Assembly session began Jan. 8, Hogan said, 104 people have been shot and 39 people have been killed in Baltimore.

“The actual and the only life and death crisis is the people being shot and killed every single day on the streets of our largest city,” Hogan said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announcing the redesignation of his crime bills at a press conference in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Jeff Barnes/Capital News Service)

Hogan’s office has repeatedly cited a January Gonzales Maryland poll, which identified crime as the top issue among 31% of 838 registered voters, compared to 16% who deemed education the top issue. Hogan said during the news conference that the public overwhelmingly supports his proposed crime-prevention legislation.

“I don’t believe there have ever been bills on any subject that have ever had more enthusiastic and nearly unanimous support,” Hogan said. “The public is literally crying out, pleading with the legislature to take these actions.”

The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that the Democrats were unlikely to pass the Violent Firearms Offender Act — Hogan’s signature crime bill — as they oppose the bill’s mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun crimes. In that article, Hogan suggested that lawmakers who don’t support his legislation are out of touch with voters and should consider stepping down.

During the Senate floor session Thursday morning, Ferguson gave an impassioned defense of Sen. William “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, the chair of the Senate committee that heard Hogan’s bills. Smith, a lieutenant with the United States Navy Reserve, was deployed to Afghanistan before the conclusion of the 2019 session and was tapped this year to lead the committee. Ferguson said any calls for him to step down are “totally unacceptable.”

“There’s no question no one feels comfortable with where things are when it comes to the status of violence across the state,” Ferguson said. “The only solution will be when we come to the table together and solve it.”

After the session, Smith told Capital News Service he was grateful for Ferguson’s remarks and said Hogan was “engaging in hyperbole.”

“To wield tools of fear-mongering and shift the debate, you’re not helping anyone,” Smith said. “You’re not helping anyone in Baltimore.”

Smith said later Thursday he wanted more evidence that Hogan’s legislation would decrease gun violence and other crimes before he would support it.

Sen. Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County, who also serves on Smith’s committee, told Capital News Service the committee has doubled up on voting sessions this week. He said the committee is considering all ideas to help solve the crime issue.

“I don’t think any one bill is being held up more than any other,” he said.

During the press conference, Hogan also took aim at Democratic legislation introduced Thursday that would expand the state’s sales tax to help fund the Kirwan plan.

Under House bill 1628, the state’s sales tax would be reduced from 6% to 5%, while being expanded to include professional services that currently aren’t taxed.

The addition of professional services, which would include things like legal services, daycare and landscaping, is expected to bring in an additional $2.6 billion a year.

Hogan said the tax increase is “not ever going to happen” during his term as governor.

“This will destroy everything we’ve done for five years,” he said. “It will destroy our economy.”

Honoring Emmett Till, House passes bill making lynching a federal hate crime

By: Bryan Gallion and Anna Hovey, Capital News Service

Rep. Bobby Bush, D-Illinois, discussing the Emmet Till Antilynching Act at a press conference – WASHINGTON
Picture Credit: Bryan Gallion, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Wednesday to make lynching a federal hate crime. The measure was named after Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. 

The final vote was 410-4. Three Republicans and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who switched his affiliation from Republican to independent in July, opposed the legislation.

“This bill is too late coming, but it is never too late to do the right thing,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a press conference before the vote. 

Till’s story is personal for some members of Congress like Rep. Bobby Bush, D-Illinois, who authored the bill. He represents the Chicago district where Till lived. 

The youth was visiting Mississippi when he was accused of offending a white woman in a store. Till later was seized by the woman’s husband and his half-brother. Till was tortured and murdered. His body was tied to a fan with barbed wire and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. 

The two men accused of the murder were found innocent by an all-white jury, a verdict that outraged much of the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement.  

Rush said he remembers his mother gathering his four siblings to show them the photo of Till laying in his open casket. The Rush family had moved from Georgia a year and a half before the murder.

“I’ll never forget this moment…she said, ‘This is the reason why I would not allow my boys to be raised in the South,’” Rush told reporters ahead of the vote.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said he was emotional while considering the bill because he knew Till’s mother. 

“We have to commit ourselves to make this country a better country, to try not to let it happen again,” Thompson said on the House floor.

Lynching — a “widely acknowledged practice in the United States until the middle of the 20th century,” according to the bill — was documented in all but four states. Over 4,700 people were reportedly lynched between 1882 and 1968, the bill says. Ninety-nine percent of the perpetrators weren’t punished.

“Lynching is a blot on the history of America, but the even greater blot is the silence that for too long maintained in the context of what people knew was happening,” Hoyer said.

Past acts of racism and violence can’t be erased by passing this legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said, but calling them out will help the nation heal. 

“As members of Congress and as Americans, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the horrors of the past so that they can never happen or occur again,” Pelosi said on the House floor.

The latest House bill is far from the first anti-lynching legislation that Congress has considered. Almost 200 were introduced during the first half of the 20th century, and three were passed by the House between 1920 and 1940. 

Rep. George Henry White, a Democrat from North Carolina and the only black member of Congress at the time, proposed the first antilynching bill in 1900.

“I am proud of House leadership and Representative Rush…but I do have to say that we must admit it is a bit of a travesty that it has taken 120 years for the U.S. government to address this crime,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said in the same press conference where Hoyer and Rush spoke.

The Senate has considered such legislation before but hasn’t enacted any despite requests from civil rights groups, previous presidents and the House, the bill says. 

In 2018, the GOP-run Senate passed a bipartisan bill to make lynching a civil rights violation — proposed by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-California; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey and Tim Scott, R-South Carolina — but it failed to pass in the then-Republican controlled House. It passed in the Senate again last year. 

“Lynchings were horrendous, racist acts of violence,” Harris said in a statement. “For far too long Congress has failed to take a moral stand and pass a bill to finally make lynching a federal crime…This justice is long overdue.” 

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill by Friday, before the end of Black History Month. When asked if President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law, Bass asked, “How could he not?”