Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kramer’s Committee Votes: Context Matters

Committee votes in Annapolis are fair game in assessing any legislator’s performance. But after investigating Delegate Ben Kramer’s (D-19) House Judiciary Committee votes further, we believe that the context of some of these votes must be considered.

1. Hate Crimes
Kramer voted against HB 80 2008 in committee, the “No Nooses Act,” a bill sponsored by Delegates Saqib Ali (D-39) and Herman Taylor (D-14) that would have prohibited the placement of nooses on another person’s property because of their race or other demographic characteristics. But Kramer voted in favor of HB 41 2008, a bill that would have outlawed both nooses and swastikas, on the House floor. Kramer is also the lead sponsor of a bill that would prohibit hate crimes on the basis of age, gender and disability.

2. Inmate Diminution of Credits
Kramer voted against three 2008 bills that prohibited child rapists, child sex offenders and violent criminals from earning “diminution credits” (which are awarded for good behavior while in prison and used to reduce sentences). But he did vote for a 2008 bill establishing minimum sentences for second-time child sex offenders. And this year, Kramer is the lead sponsor of two bills that limit diminution credits for primary drug, violent and sexual offenders and violent criminals.

3. Reporting Lost or Stolen Firearms
Kramer voted against HB 880 2008 in committee, a bill that requires gun owners who have their weapons stolen to report the thefts or go to jail. The bill was requested by the Baltimore City Government. In fact, the bill was voted down overwhelmingly in committee because it imposed threats of jail time against crime victims – in other words, people whose guns were stolen. Members in both parties agreed the bill imposed an unreasonable burden on victims, especially some who may not even know of the thefts for long periods of time.

Committee votes matter and should be posted on the Internet. State legislators should not get passes on them. They should expect scrutiny on committee votes just as they receive on floor votes. But context matters too, as the above analysis demonstrates.