Prosecutorial powers in police accountability cases, civil rights enforcement, and environmental justice topped the Attorney General’s legislative agenda for 2023.
In a radio interview with Tom Hall, Attorney General (AG) Anthony Brown discussed legislative outcomes on WYPR’s Midday Newsmaker show. While some initiatives, such as legislation involving pattern or practice investigations did not pass, a number of bills supported by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) made it through to the Governor’s desk. As a result, powers were extended across a variety of categories for both criminal and civil cases.
Authority for the OAG to prosecute criminal cases was extended for police accountability and environmental justice purposes. SB 290 allowed for the AG to prosecute cases where police officer actions resulted in the death, or likely death, of an individual. Despite the opposition of twenty-three out of the twenty-four state’s attorneys, AG Brown says he believes the local offices are likely relieved to avoid prosecuting these cases.
On the environmental justice front, SB 611 created the Environment and Natural Resources Monitoring Unit with powers granted to bring criminal charges against individuals and organizations violating environmental laws. Brown reiterated the environmental cases they intend to take on will be for larger scale incidents while the local offices can maintain jurisdiction over more isolated occurrences.
He also discussed SB 540, which granted the OAG the authority to enforce violations of federal and state civil rights laws. Brown stated that prior to the passage of SB 540, individuals would not have been able to seek support services or representation from the AG for such cases and would need to rely on private counsel and advocacy organizations for help. He is happy to say that as of July 1, an individual that suffers infringement on their civil rights in the workplace, with a business, in housing deliberations, and beyond, those victims can seek help from the OAG. Brown clarified further that this is only for civil cases, and is not intended for criminal prosecution but to simply enforce existing law, a provision that is now consistent with twenty-one other states.
Other topics for the conversation included staffing up to fill vacancies, salary enhancements, an appreciation of HB 481 – a law he initially opposed but has changed his view – and a clarification about who is responsible for the redacting of offender names in the Catholic Church abuse report.