ANNAPOLIS – Legislation boosting sentences for felons convicted of gun crimes continues to gain support in the Maryland General Assembly with House Republicans introducing a bill Tuesday designed to complement existing Democratic bills.
Under a bipartisan, bicameral initiative sponsored by Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel, previously convicted felons charged with a gun crime face a five-year mandatory sentence without the possibility of plea bargains or parole. The bill is modeled after the Project Exile program started in Richmond, Va., in 1997 to reduce gun crime.
Legislation introduced Tuesday by Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, aims to toughen Exile by preventing appeals to a three-judge panel.
“These two bills are not in competition with each other. They are both complementary and they both need to go through and they both should go through,” O’Donnell said. “They’re both essential.”
If Exile convictions may be appealed to the three-judge panel, O’Donnell said, it makes the mandatory prison stretch less ominous. If the sentence time is a certainty, fewer criminals will commit gun crimes, he said.
“It makes it cost-prohibitive to do it,” he said.
Project Exile is one of several gun reform bills proposed this session. Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, has legislation mandating trigger locks and the development of guns that can be fired only by authorized users. Included in this package is an Exile-like program.
Exile also has gotten federal attention. U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., R- Timonium, was at O’Donnell’s press conference to support his fellow Republican’s legislation. Ehrlich, who served eight years in the House of Delegates before being elected to Congress in 1994, still has close ties to legislators here and said he supports all pending Exile legislation.
“This is asking people to enforce the law before they create new ones,” he said.
The bill is supported by gun advocates and opponents because, Ehrlich said, it focuses “on bad guys with guns.”
Both O’Donnell and Cadden’s bills need to be passed in order to start Project Exile, an Ehrlich spokesman said.
However, Cadden, a co-sponsor on O’Donnell’s bill, disagrees. While eliminating the appeal option would enhance the legislation, it is not essential to Exile’s effectiveness. She said there were no plans to incorporate O’Donnell’s idea into her bill.
“We really want both bills to go on their own merits,” said Cadden, who’s proposal has 58 co-sponsors including Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, and O’Donnell.
Exile’s prospects for passage in the House Judiciary Committee are uncertain. Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, said he doesn’t support mandatory sentences, however, he hadn’t looked over either Cadden or O’Donnell’s bills. Vallario, who sponsored the legislation creating the three- judge panel last session, said there could be a lot of support for Exile.
“(Members) have curiosity and there’s a lot of talk about the bills and … the concept,” Vallario said. Cadden’s bill also is sponsored by Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, in the Senate. Jimeno’s proposal has the support of more than 30 of the 47 senators. O’Donnell’s bill has no Senate companion, but does have 48 co-sponsors including Cadden. -30- CNS-2-8-00