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MD- Local lawmakers team up on gang violence‏

January 13, 2010

The legislation, if it passes, will mean stronger penalties for gang-related criminal activity. Among other things, it will give police officers more authority to conduct wire-tapping and execute search warrants for suspected gang members.

Local lawmakers team up on gang violence
By ALLISON BOURG, Staff Writer
Published 01/13/10

North county lawmakers will team up this legislative session on a palette of different gang law reforms, hoping to reduce crime in their communities.

Del. Steve Schuh, R-Gibson Island, said 10 to 11 gang-related initiatives are on the agenda for the 2010 General Assembly session, which begins today in Annapolis.

“Gang activity has been confirmed in every single county in Maryland,” Schuh said. “Bloods, Crips, MS13, they’re all here.”

“Anne Arundel County is no different”, he said.

The legislation, if it passes, will mean stronger penalties for gang-related criminal activity. Among other things, it will give police officers more authority to conduct wire-tapping and execute search warrants for suspected gang members.

“There has been an uptick in crime in northern Anne Arundel County, and a lot of this is a result of gang activity,” said Del Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena.

He pointed to a rash of break-ins and car thefts, plus more violent, drug-related crimes, that are directly tied to gangs.

Officials also have complained of legal barriers preventing school and law-enforcement information sharing, and the issue has gained prominence in Anne Arundel County since the May killing of 14-year-old Christopher Jones in Crofton.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, said the General Assembly will tackle the issue from both a law enforcement and education perspective, making sure evidence concerning gang members can flow freely. as information about who in a school has contracted swine flu.

“We are going with the theory that we should be able to break down all the communication barriers,” he said.

Area lawmakers will be tackling these issues, and plenty of others, over the next three months. Legislators said an estimated $2 billion budget shortfall and a still-stagnant economy will make the session especially challenging.

Del. Ted Sophocleus, D-Linthicum, forecast a session during which lawmakers scrutinize every last cent.

“We need to determine what’s cost effective, and what will be the best return on our investment,” he said.

District 31

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, plans to reintroduce a measure to create an elected school board, one of 18 bills he plans to sponsor this year.

Anne Arundel County school board members are appointed, not elected, something Simonaire said he has been fighting to change since he was elected in 2006.

The current system was changed shortly after his election, eliminating the old school board nominating convention and replacing it with an appointed commission that selects nominees.

“It’s about transparency and accountability,” Simonaire said. “I want the people to have a voice in government.”

Another priority is the passage of Loretta’s Law, which would require someone with power of attorney over someone else to keep specific records of receipts and payments made.

Simonaire has tried to push that bill through for several years. It was inspired by a Pasadena woman who lost her life savings when her niece, who has power of attorney, stole from her.

Schuh will introduce a bill aimed at reducing Medicaid costs, which he says are increasingly out of control.

“Maryland has a Cadillac Medicaid program, and we can’t afford it any longer,” Schuh said. “Maybe we need a good, solid Chevy.”

Right now, Medicaid recipients have an optional co-pay when they go see a doctor. Schuh wants to submit legislation that would require co-pays for patients on Medicaid, among other reforms.

Kipke said he plans to introduce bills requiring voters to show proper ID at the polls, and a bill that would prohibit uninsured drivers from seeking damages when they are involved in a car accident.

Del. Don Dwyer, R-Glen Burnie, said he will re-submit his Personhood Amendment, which defines life as beginning at conception. The bill, aimed at ending legal abortion, fizzled in session last year.

District 32

Sophocleus will partner with state Sen. Ed DeGrange, D-Glen Burnie, to introduce legislation to require the proper disposal of a corpse.

In July, police found the body of an 83-year-old Glen Burnie woman stored in her family’s freezer. Family members told police she had died several weeks earlier, and they put her corpse in the freezer. “That bill is all ready to go,” DeGrange said.

Sophocleus also plans to introduce the Student Stigma bill, which seeks to change mentally disturbed to mental disability on school system paperwork. It’s similar to the delegate’s Rosa’s Law, which changed the words mentally retarded to intellectually disabled on official papers.

Del. Mary Ann Love, D-Glen Burnie, predicted that a proposal to increase the alcohol tax by a dime a drink to help fund developmental disabilities and mental health services would garner lots of buzz. Similar legislation failed last year.

Del. Pam Beidle, D-Linthicum, said she will focus on just a handful of bills – “It costs between $1,000 and $2,000 for every bill that’s submitted.”

One important bill, she said, would further restrict where registered sex offenders can live to keep them away from schools and day-care centers.

District 21

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a College Park Democrat whose district includes Jessup and other west county communities, plans to submit a bill holding any Anne Arundel County parent who ignores an order to pay child support in criminal contempt.

Pena-Melnyk said she tried to introduce the bill statewide last year, but it failed due to the expenses and resources involved.

“This will benefit Anne Arundel parents,” she said.

Another bill she’s proposing would give local jurisdictions the authority to remove signs that businesses and organizations often post in highway medians.

“I’ve been working on that for three years,” Pena-Melnyk said. “(The signs) litter up the area.”

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