Maryland lawmakers have passed a bill to revamp the system for victim compensation in the state, changes advocates say will not only help survivors of crime and their families, but improve public safety.

The Victim Compensation Reform Act of 2024 earned final approval in the Maryland House of Delegates with a 131-4 vote and cleared the Maryland Senate in a 47-0 vote. The legislation will overhaul the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, a body that’s designed to help victims of crime.

Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, had put forward the bill as part of his public safety agenda for the 2024 legislative session.

“I am just overjoyed. I’m very grateful to the governor and to the legislators,” said Deborah Haskins, a licensed clinical professional counselor and retired counselor-educator who testified about her experience with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board in Annapolis.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Her son, Joseph, called “JoJo” by the family, was killed in 2013 in a home invasion in Baltimore. Haskins has said she received reimbursement for two sets of counseling sessions, but eventually gave up.

“We’re moving in the right direction to help people heal who are wounded as a result of criminal injuries,” she added.

The bill makes several changes to the process, including:

Haskins also noted that the legislation will also expand the number of board members and mandate that they must reflect the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the state. That’s along with requiring at least one member to be a survivor who’s part of a community that experiences “disproportionately high rates of violence and incarceration.” At least one must be a representative of an organization that helps victims apply for compensation.

The board will now be required to give emergency awards of up to $10,000 for items including funeral expenses, crime scene cleanup and relocation, unless if finds by clear and convincing evidence that an application is “without merit.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

She thanked Del. Dalya Attar, a Democrat from Baltimore, for taking up the issue. Haskins said she hopes that there will be more advertisements about victim compensation.

In this photo from Feb. 18, 2024, Deborah Haskins holds a framed photo of her late son, Joseph, whom family members called “JoJo,” left, and her husband, Bruce, right. She testified about her experience with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board in Annapolis. (Wesley Lapointe/for the Baltimore Banner)

“By ending the reliance on a police report and numerous other barriers in the process, the Victim Compensation Reform Act opens the door to vital support for victims who have long been excluded, and reduces their risk of future victimization,” said Heather Warnken, executive director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore School of Law, in a statement.

“Maryland has just passed a new model policy for the country. This is a transformational reform.”

Though lawmakers passing the bill is a first huge step, the next one will be the regulatory process, said Lydia Watts, executive director of the Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise Center, or ROAR Center, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Watts said regulations guide the board on how to implement the law. She said they’re critically important to making sure that the process is as user-friendly as possible and centered on survivors.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The changes, she noted, are in line with updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“It’s really exciting to see Maryland at the forefront of these necessary changes that are really being recognized nationally,” Watts said. “It’s really heartening to see that level of support here in our state.”

More From The Banner