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Moore highlights public safety measures one day before legislative session

Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced three main pieces of legislation focused on public safety during a press conference Jan. 9, 2024, in the governor’s reception room in Annapolis. Photo by William J. Ford.

One day before the Maryland General Assembly begins its 90-day legislative session, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) proposed public safety measures that focus on supporting families whose loved ones are victims of crime, creation of apprenticeship program to hire more law enforcement personnel and a statewide center to prevent gun violence.

Moore made the announcement Tuesday amongst dozens of officials including Attorney General Anthony Brown (D), Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue and various state lawmakers, local prosecutors and community activists.

Although the governor said that current public safety measures helped decrease homicides last year in Baltimore to fewer than 300 for the first time in nearly 10 years, he said there’s more work to do.

“This inexcusable fact that 75% of all homicides are committed with a gun,” he said. “This is a public safety crisis. But it’s also a public health crisis.”

One bill the governor plans to introduce would create a state center for firearm violence prevention and intervention.

That center would be modeled on the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention that was established in September. The goal is to implement legislative and executive actions to combat gun violence with initiatives such as requiring safe storage of firearms, strengthening background checks and banning assault weapons.

One of the first bills Moore signed into law last year was “Jaeylynn’s Law,” named after 16-year-old Jaelynn Wiley who was fatally shot in 2018 by a classmate at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County. That law prohibits a gun owner from storing or leaving a loaded firearm around an unsupervised minor and would ban offenders from owning or carrying a firearm for from 5 years to life, depending on how many times they violated that law.

Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said Tuesday in Annapolis that the Biden administration wants more states to create similar offices. He said Maryland is the first state in the nation to propose such a statewide center.

“What we need is partnership,” Wilcox said. “What we need is an ecosystem where the federal government and agencies has partners at the state level [and] partners at the local level so we can make sure important funding dollars and enforcement priorities get to where they need to go.”

Moore also is backing the Victim’s Compensation Reform Act, and he thanked Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) and Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates (D) for working on this proposal.

The prosecutors, who attended Tuesday’s press conference, presented it as part their legislative priorities last month. The measure would make it easier and faster for families to get money for funeral expenses of loved ones who were victims of crime. Braveboy said that now, it sometimes takes families up to a year or longer to receive money administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Another bill the governor plans to introduce is called Growing Apprenticeship in Public Safety, or G.A.P.S. The goal is to increase the ranks in law enforcement when some officials have said that shortages remain statewide.

“Law enforcement is vital to the safety of our communities. We have a responsibility to recruit, train and retain quality law enforcement officers,” Moore said. “This legislation will build stronger pipelines for law enforcement jobs for all Marylanders, even those who do not pursue a four-year college degree. As we contend with workforce shortages across our public safety agencies, this bill will help us get more boots on the ground and help us to keep the boots that we already have.”

No funding estimates were given on these proposals, but the governor must release his 2025 budget plan next week.

Juvenile justice reform

Juvenile justice reform is a major topic throughout the state and Moore said his administration would lead in the effort to improve the lives of young people.

He said he supports a proposal to extend probationary periods for young people that Braveboy and Bates presented as a priority.

“That way we give juveniles the additional time to complete necessary rehabilitation programs,” the governor said. “When we talk about what does it mean to rebuild a juvenile service section, it really means having all hands-on deck to be able to support our young people.”

A pre-filed bill on the General Assembly’s website – Senate Bill 94 – sponsored by Sen. Ron Watson (D-Prince Georges) and co-sponsored Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore) and Chris West (R-Baltimore County) — proposes to extend probationary periods from six months to two years. For certain cases, the probation period could be extended up to three years.

For a juvenile found guilty of a felony or a crime involving a firearm, the bill would allow the court to extend probation to a period of up to five years.

The governor stressed that any juvenile justice reform legislation that comes to his desk should include data and ensure that juveniles are held accountable.

“We need accountability for the kids that are repeatedly violating the law. I believe in rehabilitation, but I will not tolerate lawlessness,” he said. “We need accountability for the young person who picks up a handgun and threatens the safety of their neighbors. You cannot destroy the lives of other people and believe there will be no consequences.”

When asked if the governor would assess whether the Child Interrogation Protection Act, passed in 2022, should be tweaked, he said, “All options need to be on the table.”

Some law enforcement officials and state’s attorneys have said the act, which requires a law enforcement officer who takes a child into custody to “provide reasonable notice to a child’s parent, guardian, or custodian,” has hampered law enforcement’s ability to investigate crimes.

However, House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) said last week the legislature doesn’t anticipate “rolling back the recent juvenile justice laws” passed, but plans to assess bills “to improve the system.”

A lot of fluff

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) and Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll) attended Moore’s Tuesday press conference.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore), right, and Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll) speak with reporters after Gov. Wes Moore’s press conference Jan. 9, 2024. Photo by William J. Ford.

They said they do support extending probationary periods for young people.

“We’re not looking to put every single person in jail. We want to make sure that there is a rehabilitative process, but it has to be accountable,” Hershey said.

Ready said he would also like to see data accompany legislation, for example, to show that “most crimes” are committed by stolen handguns and not by “so-called assault weapons.”

“We agree that accountability needs to be the watchword and that the entire state government needs to be focused on accountability for criminal activity,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of fluff and not a lot of real concrete commitments to really embrace legislation that will actually put more criminals behind bars and ensure accountability.”

A bill that would do that is Senate Bill 179 (Violent Firearms Offender Act) sponsored by Watson and co-sponsored by Carozza and Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s).

According to portions of the pre-filed bill, a person who commits a crime using a firearm “with a magazine holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition or an assault weapon” would be charged with a felony rather than misdemeanor, as they could be charged under current law.


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Moore highlights public safety measures one day before legislative session