CONVERSATIONS WITH HJM: CHAIRMAN LUKE CLIPPINGER
“The work of the Judiciary Committee has provided me a broader understanding of how the criminal justice system impacts citizens; it is exciting to be a part of this work, with talented colleagues and advocates, as our State improves and reimagines our legal system.”
Born and raised in Baltimore City, Judiciary Chairman Luke Clippinger (D represents District 46 in the Maryland House of Delegates. Growing up in Reservoir Hill, Clippinger’s family was part of the homesteading program in Baltimore City where they purchased their home for a dollar and completely renovated it. After graduating from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute [Poly] in 1990, he went to Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana where he got his Bachelor of Arts in Politics in 1994. Once he graduated, Clippinger went to law school at the University of Louisville where he earned his Juris Doctor degree in 2005. While in law school, he broke into the political world by working for former Congressman Baron Hill. Eventually, Clippinger made his way back home to Maryland and has been an Assistant State’s Attorney (ASA) in Anne Arundel County for the last 16 years. His background as an ASA provides him a special ability to have a deeper knowledge of the criminal justice system’s strengths and weaknesses, which provides his committee valuable insight as the Chair of the Judiciary Committee. “I think we all come with different experiences and certainly this experience that I have had in the law as a prosecutor has informed some of my work in the legislature,” Clippinger says.
Elected in 2010, Clippinger has been a vital member of the Maryland General Assembly for the last 13 years, leading the charge on a vast amount of legislation. Clippinger originally served on the Judiciary Committee when he was first elected until he joined the House Economic Matters Committee in 2015. While he was in his second term, Clippinger served as the Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Delegates. Starting in 2019, he eventually went back to Judiciary, replacing former Delegate Joe Valerio as the committee’s Chairman, playing a crucial role in advancing legislation pertaining to judicial administration, criminal and civil laws, public safety, and other related subjects.
On top of his duties as the Chair of JUD, Clippinger is the leader of the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization workgroup, where he and other legislators have devoted countless hours to passing a bill that legalized cannabis for adult use in Maryland which took effect on July 1, 2023. After a long and busy legislative session, the Chairman found time to talk with me about how he got started in public service, the significant legislation that passed this year, and the obstacles that he and his committee had to overcome.
Could you give me an overview of your background and the events that led you into public service?
I grew up in Baltimore, where my family was part of the homesteading program. At the time, Mayor Schaefer set up a program where vacant houses were sold for a dollar, and people got loan assistance to renovate the houses to turn them around. So, my family bought our home for a dollar in 1974and I lived there until I went away for college. I graduated from Poly [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute] in 1990. I continued my education at Earlham College, which is a small Quaker liberal arts school in Richmond, Indiana, and graduated in 1994. I worked in the Midwest for a little while after graduating college, before I went and got my law degree from the University of Louisville. During law school, I worked for Congressman Baron Hill. I eventually came back home to Maryland and have been the Assistant State’s Attorney in Anne Arundel County for the last 16 years and have been serving in the legislature for 13 years now.
Do you believe that your work as an Assistant State’s Attorney influences or impacts you as a legislator?
I think we all come with different experiences and certainly, this experience that I have had in the law as a prosecutor has informed some of my work in the legislature. I’ll also say that I think it has given me a broader appreciation for the criminal justice system and our court process in general. That has been very helpful to use, certainly now as the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Can you take me through the roles that you have played throughout your 13 years in the Maryland General Assembly?
When I first got elected in 2010, I originally served on the Judiciary Committee, until I moved to the Economic Matters Committee during my second term in 2015. From 2015 to 2019, I was in ECM, and also the chair of the Democratic caucus, before becoming the new Chairman of the Judiciary Committee starting in 2019, replacing Joe Valerio who had been the Chair of the committee for a very long time.
As the Chair of the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization workgroup, I am sure you and everyone who has worked to pass legalizing cannabis for adult use in Maryland are very excited that the bill finally went into effect during the summer. What were some of the biggest challenges that you all had to overcome as a group when charting the rules for the legalization of cannabis and establishing those regulatory and taxation structures for the implementation?
We’re building a whole regulatory structure from scratch, so you have to start from the beginning which is challenging. Virtually every state has done this differently, so it’s challenging to follow the different states and try to figure out what is working and what is not–which again, is difficult because there is not a whole lot out there yet. I think the longest time that a state has had legalized cannabis was Colorado, and even that hasn’t been an incredibly long period of time. We are kind of watching other states learn from each other and also trying to do things a little bit differently in Maryland. So, managing all of those different possibilities was one big thing that I would consider a challenge. I would also say, the assumption was that there would be a gigantic pile of money at the end of this process. I’m not sure that there’s going to be as big of a pile of money as people thought, but that is in part because one of the things that we did here that has been a little different than in other states, is that we wanted to set the tax rates deliberately low in the beginning to try and absorb as much of the underground economy as we can before raising the taxes and looking at where we robust revenue in the future.
With all the notable legislation that was passed this year, what subject or legislation from the session did you feel particularly proud of?
There were several bills that came out of my committee that are really important, including some that we don’t talk a lot about. One is the Safe Harbor and Service Response Bill–legislation that basically said that if children are the victims of sex and human trafficking, those child victims will no longer face criminal charges for any of the crimes that they may have committed during that time. The law seeks to expunge those crimes and get them off their records so they can move on with their lives and get away from that challenging part of their past when they were a victim themselves of human trafficking. That took a while to get done, but we were finally able to do that this year. Another bill that was not talked a whole lot about had to do with repealing the state’s Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices Act. We still had a law on the books banning sodomy, which effectively in some cases at least consensual, sexual relations between two people. And in many cases, it was consensual sexual relationships between two people of the same gender. We still had a law on the books that was banning that; criminalizing sodomy including consensual same-sex sexual relations. The worst part of it was that it equated in the law what were consensual sexual relationships with people having sex with an animal. Eliminating that area of the law and how we treat people, and how we criminalize people who brutalize animals; making that separate seems like something we should have done a long time ago, but it took us five years to do that. There were people as recently as 2021 who under the current law were still being arrested by law enforcement in several counties of this State, based on the laws that were there. So, I think that that was an important thing that we did so that we could move and truly leave no one behind. Having said all that, working on the gun issues related to gun possession–where you can and can’t possess guns, was a bigger issue that we talked a lot about and worked a ton on this session. We passed three comprehensive bills: one that, again, kind of set the framework for where you can and where you can’t possess a gun; one that changed the underlying requirements for being able to get a handgun license, including requiring the age that you are allowed to possess being 21 years of age, not 18. We also took some important steps in the area of strengthening the penalties for people who improperly store firearms. So in any case, it’s been a very busy year but we got quite a bit done.
What is your process after the session ends? How do you evaluate and decide which areas will be your top priorities going forward?
I think you have to take a little bit of a break after and just observe how existing bills and existing laws are playing out and working. Looking at a couple of different areas of the law and seeing what works and what’s not working. For example, we found some parts of juvenile law that may need to be tweaked after changes that we made in 2022. But generally, you take some time to see how everything is unfolding, hear from people, hear their concerns, and then make decisions as to whether you want to make changes or wherever you want to try something new. Constituents are always calling and everyone has new ideas and opinions.
By: Valerie Skvirsky, Government Relations Associate