Perhaps adopting a new and more aggressive tactic with the change in leadership to Delegates Nic Kipke and Kathy Szeliga, the Maryland House Republican Caucus on Friday unveiled its first ‘Minority Report’, which deals with the ongoing Baltimore prison scandal.
Their first order of business was to note this had been a longstanding scandal:
As he took office in 2007, Governor O’Malley was well aware of the corruption in the prison system but has chosen to focus his energy on the issues that would aid his Presidential bid, not solve the serious public safety issues in our state.
In a press conference held last month, the House GOP called for an independent investigator and outlined some of the steps they had attempted in curtailing the situation – steps which were defeated by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly:
“In the 2008 and 2009 session, I proposed legislation to create a substance abuse treatment program that would have redirected many gang members away from their daily drug dealing and into treatment programs,” said Delegate Ron George of Anne Arundel County. “This bill was supported by the Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services as a way to rehabilitate inmates and reduce drug dealing within correctional facilities, but was ignored by Democratic leaders.”
Delegate John Cluster continued:
Since 2010, legislation to strengthen penalties for transportation and possession of cell phones in correctional facilities has been before the House Judiciary Committee, but has been defeated by Democratic leadership for the past four years.
Delegate John Cluster of Baltimore County, sponsor of the legislation in 2013 said, “The Administration and Democratic leaders again defeated a bill that could have prevented or mitigated the latest prison scandal. Members of the House Judiciary Committee were presented with evidence illustrating the serious issue of cell phone possession in jails long before the Federal indictment was issued.”
Cluster’s 2013 version of the bill, HB651, failed 11-10 in committee. While Judiciary Chair Joseph Vallario, Jr. doesn’t generally vote, there have been exceptions to that rule and his vote could have carried the bill. Ironically, he was listed as the sponsor of the 2012 bill (HB587) which failed in his committee 9-11. The fiscal note for that bill notes the Judiciary Committee killed the bill in 2011 (5-16) and 2010 (9-11) as well, both of which had Vallario listed as sponsor (as Chair of the Judiciary Committee.)
So the Delegates are speaking correctly with their assertions. The anticipated payoff is a hearing on June 6, when House Republicans vowed:
The House Republican Caucus is committed to asking the tough questions, holding the right people accountable and working towards reform.
Obviously the proof will be in the pudding come 2014. Surely a bill similar to that of Cluster’s will be introduced, probably once again at the behest of the Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services and sponsored by Vallario, so Democrats can accrue credit for it. It would only take a vote or two on the Judiciary Committee to swing and push the bill to the House floor.
As for George’s bill, it’s interesting to note he made his remarks before formally announcing for Governor (although many say he’d privately hinted at that desire for several weeks beforehand.) Calling for treatment facilities may not establish him as “tough on crime” in the usual sense, but the bipartisanship would certainly be played up to appeal to the middle in a general election campaign. Still, he will presumably be a member of the House caucus which will be pressing this issue both at the hearing and in next year’s session.
With regard to Martin O’Malley, the challenge for him will be appearing to “do something” and minimizing the damage which will certainly accrue as more comes to light in this prison scandal. Can’t have any of these pesky Maryland problems overshadow the 2016 campaign, you know. Nor can he throw Anthony Brown under the bus, since he’s already endorsed Brown as his logical successor next year – so look for Brown to be placed in a leadership position on any task force created for this production.
It’s interesting that a bunch of people who (supposedly) can’t vote – after all, if they have cell phones and are making babies in prison, what else are they doing? – may have a significant influence on the 2014 and 2016 elections.