ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert Ehrlich convened a group of state’s attorneys and fellow Republican lawmakers Tuesday to rally support for his version of Project Exile – a proposal to toughen gun laws — with only a three-week window for the General Assembly to consider the proposal.
The meeting marked an increased effort by the governor in his lobbying for Exile. The proposal, one of the governor’s four major pieces of legislation introduced this session, would enforce minimum sentencing for people convicted of gun crimes.
“We believe we will have Exile,” said Ehrlich, who has spent most of his first three months in office battling the General Assembly over legalizing slot machines and fixing the state’s $2 billion budget gap.
The bill is crafted after a Virginia law that toughens sentencing and moves gun crimes from state to federal court, said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.
By kicking gun crimes up to the federal level for prosecution, attorneys can get stiffer sentences, said Maryland U.S. Attorney Tom DiBiagio, one of Ehrlich’s invited supporters.
The governor’s bill, however, does not require federal prosecutors to take on an increased caseload.
In fact, cooperation between state and federal prosecutors, is “not new at all,” DiBiagio said.
Some Maryland jurisdictions already work with DiBiagio’s office in prosecuting gun crimes including Prince George’s County and Baltimore.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey said Ehrlich’s support will help ongoing efforts to crack down on gun crimes.
“The coordination is going to be helpful,” he said.
Coordination between the governor’s office and the General Assembly about the bill seemed to be lacking, however.
With three weeks to go before the Legislature adjourns, some lawmakers said they were concerned about the governor’s commitment to Exile and other parts of his legislative package.
Ehrlich dismissed those concerns, saying he intended to begin pushing Exile in March from the start.
“We wanted to do it right,” Ehrlich said. “Right now we have to get our bills passed.”
The bill is locked up in committee in both chambers with slim chances of survival.
House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, said the bill won’t make it out of his committee and Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, has not said when his committee will vote on the bill, if he brings it to a vote at all.
Frosh is already on a winning streak against the administration, successfully blocking an Ehrlich Cabinet nominee, but Ehrlich said he is still optimistic.
“We met with (Vallario) . . . we met with (Frosh),” Ehrlich said. “It’s difficult to predict what the package will look like. We will obviously be working hard.” – 30 – CNS-3-18-03