For the first time in her almost eight-year tenure, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy announced she is pushing an aggressive legislative agenda in the coming months that is separate from that of the city.
Jessamy, who has had a strained relationship with City Hall since Mayor Martin O'Malley took office, announced her agenda last week at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
Jessamy's proposals include fixing a "defective" gun law, seeking higher penalties for witness intimidation and expanding her ability to seal criminal affidavits. She also wants at least $3.5 million added to her budget to pay prosecutors currently being funded by grants.
Jessamy plans to send her staff to Annapolis in January to lobby for reforms during the 90-day General Assembly lawmaking session, rather than relying solely on city representatives.
In the past, a city delegation has represented the interests of city agencies such as the Police Department in advocating legislation.
Jessamy had used her staff to push through a law or two in the past, but never had planned an effort of this extent. Her spokeswoman, Margaret T. Burns, said the office doesn't want to rely only on City Hall.
"We cannot entrust what is critical to our day-to-day operation to somebody who is not able to carry the urgency and necessity of that message to the movers and shakers of Annapolis," Burns said. "At City Hall, they have issues like education, policing, jail overcrowding, lead paint. Gun prosecutions may not be their top priority."
As an example, Burns said, her office feared last year that it would have to cut 14 staff prosecutors if state legislators didn't fund them. At the last minute, the office got the money. She said she wants to avoid a similar situation next year.
Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Baltimore's deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations who oversees all city legislation, said the criminal justice meeting was the first she had heard of the state's attorney's agenda.
Jessamy began her lobbying Nov. 8 when she spoke with Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on the phone.
Ehrlich subsequently sent a letter to the head of the council, Stuart R. Berger, saying Jessamy's gun proposal will be "an early and high priority" in his administration.
The proposal deals with amending section 449(e) of the Gun Safety Act of 2000, which was intended to restrict certain classes of people from possessing handguns, and penalize them severely if they do.
Jessamy intends to close eight loopholes in the law, including one that allows felons to have certain firearms such as long guns and rifles without penalty. Another is that the act outlaws minors from possessing ammunition, but provides no penalty for a violation.
She also wants to amend the witness intimidation law. The penalty is up to five years in prison for intimidating a witness who will testify at trial. Jessamy wants to make the penalty equal to the punishment for the crime for which the witness is supposed to testify.