ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Larry Hogan called for decisive action to fight “out-of-control violent crime” he said is “destroying Baltimore" in his annual State of the State address Wednesday to the Maryland General Assembly.
From a boy shot in the stomach while riding in a car with his family on a Saturday morning to a grandmother killed in gang crossfire last month, Hogan cited examples to emphasize the toll crime is taking and the need for action.
“This is an urgent crisis, and we have an obligation to do something about it right now," Hogan said. "There can be no more excuses and no more delays.”
Baltimore had 348 homicides last year — the fifth straight year of more than 300 killings — making it the city's most violent year ever per capita. Last month, 12 people were shot, five of them fatally, in eight separate weekend shootings.
The governor, as well as lawmakers from both parties, have proposed packages of legislation to try to address the problem.
Hogan has proposed tougher penalties for witness intimidation and for people who use guns to commit violent crimes. He's calling for stronger penalties for people who possess stolen firearms and guns with obliterated serial numbers, as well as for people who possess or supply illegal guns to violent criminals.
Democrats, who control the legislature, proposed a package of their own Tuesday. Sen. Melony Griffith, a Prince George's County Democrat who gave a response to the governor's speech, said the plan seeks to fight crime and its root causes, including the closing loopholes in the law related to illegal firearms.
“We know there’s no single solution to this complex issue, but there are steps that we can take to implement thoughtful and comprehensive approaches to addressing crime,” Griffith said.
Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he did not believe simply raising penalties would be enough. He noted that the state increased penalties in 2018 for repeat violent offenders.
“We apparently don’t talk about that very much anymore, because we’ve gotten no evidence at all that that actually did anything," Clippinger said. “We need to look at the bigger picture.”
Lawmakers say the severity of the problem demands a bipartisan response.
“It has to be, because it’s not just Baltimore city anymore," said Sen. Stephen Hershey, an Eastern Shore Republican who is the Senate minority whip. ”It’s spreading out to the neighboring counties. It has to be something that is addressed by both sides.”
Homicides jumped about 85% in Baltimore County last year compared to the prior year, from 27 to 50.
The House Republican Caucus has made crime-fighting a top priority as well.
“Now that were on the same sheet of music and we’re saying crime is the crisis that it is and that we need to solve it, I think that we can work hard on it and we have until April to come up with some good solutions,” said Kathy Szeliga, a Republican who is the House minority whip.
In his speech, Hogan also highlighted his proposal to bring tax relief to retirees. Under the plan, retirees making $50,000 or less would pay no state income tax. Retirees who earn less than $100,000 would see a tax cut of at least 50% and up to 100%.
As lawmakers consider a sweeping proposal to improve schools, Hogan said he supports working with them to enhance education.
Both Hogan and Democratic leaders have made proposals to substantially increase school construction funding. However, Hogan has vowed to oppose tax increases to pay for a sweeping plan to raise funding formulas to improve K-12 education that would be implemented over a decade and cost billions of dollars.
Griffith said the recommendations of a state panel known as the Kirwan Commission are critical to preparing students to become a well-trained workforce to bolster the state's economy in the future.
“We must make investments in our classrooms and in our buildings,” Griffith said.