‘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.”

As pilot episode for ‘The President is Missing’ readies to film in Maryland, there’s hope of a sizable economic impact

By: Ben Cooper, Capital News Service

Continue reading “As pilot episode for ‘The President is Missing’ readies to film in Maryland, there’s hope of a sizable economic impact”

UB student nominated for University Systems of Maryland Board of Regents

The University of Baltimore may soon be well represented on the state University System’s executive board.

Student Government Association President, Sydney Comitz
Student Government Association President, Sydney Comitz Photo courtesy of Sydney Comitz for the UB Post

Sydney Comitz, a senior in the Merrick School of Business and an early-entry student in the School of Law, has been nominated by Gov. Larry Hogan to be the student representative on the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland.

The University announced Comitz’s nomination on Feb. 26. Comitz will be graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, and is planning to complete her Juris Doctorate in the School of Law in 2017. She’s also the President of the Student Government Association. Comitz said that if she’s confirmed by the full Maryland State Senate, it means she’d be representing all college students in Maryland, not just those of the University of Baltimore.

“Technically, this means that I’m going to be representing 100,000 students in the state of Maryland,”

Comitz said. “Personally, it means that I’m going to have to extend my work beyond UB to encompass all of the other students and remember the diverse student populations within our entire state, and not just the school that I love.”

Comitz said that on a professional level, this opportunity would give her a chance to strengthen the student voice on a statewide platform, including being a voice for first-time and first-generation college students. She feels that often times, those students who lack the most resources are the last ones to get a chance to say what they need.

Comitz had to go through an extensive process to become a nominee for Student Representative on the Board of Regents, starting with the University System’s Student Council.

“You meet with the students, and there’s a student representative from each of the 14 institutions on the council. They do a round of interviews, and they rank the candidates, one through three,” Comitz explained.

She was the top student pick, and then got a chance to interview for the nomination with University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan. Chancellor Kirwan then recommended Comitz to Gov. Hogan, who then made his choice based on who got the Student Council’s vote and the Chancellor’s recommendation.

“He’s really trusting the student voice, in this case,” Comitz said.

She feels that she fits the bill for representing a diverse group of students, and giving a voice to graduate students.

“Sometimes we often feel that graduate students are pushed to the side and not favored over undergraduate students. I feel like I am so many different categories that I would do a great job of being representative for all of these populations,” Comitz said.

She wants to advocate for additional protections for interns from sexual harassment, and free textbooks for students.

“So far, we’ve done a pilot program which uses open-source textbooks, and we’ll have saved by December 2015 students over $1 million in textbook costs,” Comitz said.

She explained that open-source textbooks are textbooks that are online and can be edited by professors to provide the most up-to- date information. That distinguishes the textbooks from Wikipedia, where posts can be edited by anyone, and often have inaccurate information in them. Comitz says students at some universities, such as Towson, can then print off the books and get them bound in the library for a nominal charge.

The State Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee reported favorably on Comitz’s nomination in its March 5th report. As of press time, it’s unknown when the Senate will vote on Gov. Hogan’s nominations for the Board of Regents.

Is waiting to vote worth it in Baltimore?

By the date of publication, Baltimore will have elected the Republican candidate for governor, Larry Hogan, into office. Mr. Hogan’s administration is one of the many Republican midterm election victories, one that has spurned Baltimore’s talk radio and news outlets into discussing what exactly happened at the polls. But one thing isn’t being discussed: the wait time to vote, which is very important in a climate of unclear voter ID regulations. However, UB’s very own John T. Willis plans on answering that question on a local level, by finding out the wait time for voters in Maryland.

Professor Willis currently teaches several courses at UB’s College of Public and International Affairs. Prior to his time at UB, he served as Maryland’s Secretary of State and as the Chair of the Special Committee on Voting Systems and Election Procedures. During his time with the latter, Maryland saw landmark legislation on election reform and the incorporation of reform measures in 2001. Professor Willis also spent time on the Commission to Revise the Election Code, a commission that was the architects behind the successful modernization of the state’s election laws.

The study used a team of researchers to go out on Election Day last month, and collect the wait times at about 20-30 polling places throughout Maryland. Their goal was to ascertain whether or not Maryland voters are experiencing drastic wait time at their respective polling places. The study itself isn’t the first one that Mr. Willis has conducted; he was the primary investigator on the Voting and the Administration of Elections in Maryland study that was released in January this year.

This one study established a benchmark for wait times with voters, prompting the Presidential Commission on Election Administration to state that, “no voter should wait longer than 30 minutes at polling places.” According to Ann Gotten, the Director of UB’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, the study will measure Maryland’s current output of voter wait times against the previously held standards to identify issues. Once identified, recommendations will be made by the Schaefer Center to how those times can be reduced for future elections. The study will be released this month, which will then be shared by the State Board of Elections at the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session. Look for the news of the study to also make the headlines on www.ubalt.edu.