Delegate Luke Clippinger of the state’s 46th district is at the end of his first term, and hopes that voters will give him a second.
“It was an incredible learning curve,” said Clippinger of his initial experience in Annapolis. “But I think I can point to a lot of real accomplishments.”
The first he mentioned is Jake’s Law, which potentially imposes a one-year prison sentence on those who kill someone as a result of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.
“Certainly, the press surrounding it has been good,” said Clippinger, a sponsor of the bill that became law last month. “I like to think people will think once or twice about picking up the phone while driving a several-ton pile of metal.” The law was named for 5-year-old Jake Owens, who was killed by a distracted driver, who ended up paying a $1,000 fine.
“[Jake] was playing ‘Super Mario Kart,’” Clippinger said. “The last thing he said to his mom was, ‘Look, I have 42 lives.’”
Clippinger also worked to make protective and peace orders more easily attainable, he said. Prior to the passage of a bill he sponsored, the state required “clear and convincing evidence” in order to hold a final hearing for a protective order. With the passage of House Bill 307, that standard has changed to a “preponderance of evidence.”
In layman’s terms, Clippinger said, that means that those wishing to obtain a protective order in an abusive situation must prove its necessity by a margin of 51 percent (preponderance of evidence) rather than the old standard of 65 percent (clear and convincing evidence).
Civil litigation tends to adhere to the “preponderance of evidence” standard, Clippinger added.
“If I can sue you for $1 million, and prove your liable for that million by 51 percent, then you should be able to get a protective order by that standard,” he said.
Clippinger was the House lead on the bill, which was put forward by the lieutenant governor.
The delegate also mentioned his sponsorship of House Bill 781, which concerns “persons in authority” and sexual relationships with minors and has since passed into law.
“Now, it’s not only illegal for a full-time teacher to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old; now it’s also illegal for part-time teachers and coaches,” he said.
State law generally places the age of consent at 16, but full-time, permanent teachers are prohibited from having sex with their students aged 16 and 17. Prior to the bill’s passage, coaches were prohibited from having sex with their charges, too, but only during times when those teens were actually in the coaches’ care. With the passage of the bill, coaches may not have sex with the 16- and 17-year olds they work with at any time.
Clippinger also points to a wide-ranging gun safety bill passed last year. His main contribution was new regulations concerning lost or stolen firearms, he said.
“If you lose, or someone steals, your handgun, you have to report it in 72 hours,” he said.
An assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County, Clippinger notes that in many shooting investigations, police will approach somebody and say, “Your handgun was used in a murder down the street.”
The response: “Well, I haven’t had that gun in five years.”
“If you can track these guns, then you can help the police,” Clippinger said.
Also with regard to violence, Clippinger organized two community meetings earlier this year in the wake of the home invasion near Patterson Park which resulted in the murder of Kimberly Leto. The first meeting brought Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts before Southeast residents. The second brought State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein and Secretary of Juvenile Services Sam Abed.
“I was happy to put together those two meetings,” said Clippinger. “I think in a significant way, that really helped refocus the conversation a little bit…Was it perfect? No, we are far from perfect in the criminal justice system. Is there more we can do? You bet.”
Clippinger said that juvenile justice is a likely focus for the next four years, should he be reelected.
“It’s a huge problem,” he said. “It’s poverty; it’s parents; it’s schools; it’s environment–and how you begin to take all that apart.”
He turned the conversation toward gun violence, and how there should be no “good time behavior” in the prison system for those convicted of a gun crime.
“You don’t want to make everything a mandatory minimum sentence, because then you have California,” he added, referencing that state’s crowded prison system. “But we should not be afraid to use incarceration as a tool in those cases where we have people who have guns who shouldn’t have them.”
Clippinger has also worked on legislation concerning property taxes. The Homestead Tax Credit is a tax credit for residents of Baltimore City living in the homes they have purchased. Clippinger was one of a few state lawmakers who pushed for the credit to become transferable–if a resident already taking advantage of the credit purchases and moves into a new home, then he can transfer the value of the tax credit to that new home.
Clippinger was also the lead in the House for legislation paving the way for marriage equality.
“I was really honored to get the lead on that issue,” Clippinger said.
“I like to think that over the past four years, I’ve done things that have a practical impact, and have improved the lives of Marylanders,” he said.
by Erik Zygmont