Gov. Wes Moore signed Maryland’s budget into law Thursday, along with a raft of public safety bills and controversial juvenile justice legislation that expands the state’s jurisdiction over children.

The new laws will expedite resources to crime victims, help retain and recruit cops and create a first-in-the-nation center to study gun violence as a public health issue.

“I made a promise when we first came on board: I would never spend my time as governor simply giving thoughts and prayers and attending the funerals without passing a single piece of legislation and without doing anything to make the issue any better for the families that we’re here to serve,” Moore said.

With legislative leaders House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson behind him, Moore said the progress made by his administration has led to a drop in Baltimore’s homicide rate.

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“Baltimore alone had endured over 300 homicides every year for eight straight years before we took office,” the Democrat said, calling out the two terms of former Gov. Larry Hogan without naming the Republican candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Moore left remarks on the session’s tenuous juvenile justice legislation up to the state’s chief lawmakers. Ferguson and Jones, both Democrats, championed the bill that expanded juvenile justice jurisdiction to include more charges for 10- to 12-year-olds, more flexibility for judges to lengthen probation when youths miss therapy appointments, and added review for state’s attorneys when children don’t complete rehabilitative programs. The state will assemble a broad oversight commission responsible for tracking available services and ensuring the entire juvenile justice system works toward positive outcomes for children.

“Despite all that has been written and said about this bill, it really comes down to some basic facts: children in the system do not have clear pathways to rehabilitation, and there is no meaningful oversight of this process,” Jones said. The Baltimore County delegate juxtaposed her comments on the juvenile justice bill with the $16 billion lawmakers put in the budget for a wide range of resources for children, including community schools and behavioral health and intervention programs.

Del. Luke Clippinger, chair of the committee that reviewed the bill, said the law makes critical technical changes and will provide a backstop for youths who repeatedly get arrested, ensure youths complete service programs and hold the adults inside the system accountable. Now it’s up to the executive branch to carry out the new rules.

“The next big thing here is the department has to produce,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “They have to produce on the services side; they have to produce on the oversight side.”

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Advocates have demanded Moore veto the bill, saying widening the net of juvenile justice flies in the face of decades of research, threatens to incarcerate more children of color, and will only harm children and, ultimately, public safety.

Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue, who has opposed the juvenile justice legislation, said she had “mixed feelings” about that batch of bills being signed into law.

But she called out some positive steps, such as the funding the state is adding to intervention programs.

“We have to continue to support families in meaningful ways,” she said.

Dartigue also praised the state’s move to create correctional facility oversight through an ombudsman in the state Attorney General’s office and applauded the creation of a center to study the public health effects of gun violence.

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Here are some of the notable pieces of legislation Moore signed.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, Gov. Wes Moore and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones pose for a photo with bill advocates as they sign the Victim Compensation Reform Act of 2024 on May 16, 2024.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, Gov. Wes Moore and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones pose for a photo with bill advocates as they sign the Victim Compensation Reform Act of 2024 on May 16, 2024. (Brenda Wintrode)

The budget

The $63 billion budget includes several hundred million dollars in additional taxes and fees, including increased car registration fees and a hike in cigarette and nicotine taxes. The extra money will, among other things, make sure that transportation projects can continue and a public school improvement program has enough money for the next three school years. The next budget year starts on July 1.

Gun Industry Accountability Act

Gun violence prevention advocates praised Moore for signing the Gun Industry Accountability Act. The law gives the Maryland attorney general and legal counsel for each jurisdiction the ability to file civil suits against firearms industry members and strips the gun industry of nearly two decades of broad federal civil immunity. The bill follows the lead of eight other states.

“When gun violence is the number one killer of my generation,” said Kendall Sprague, a volunteer leader with the Winston Churchill High School Students Demand Action chapter in a statement, “we deserve lawmakers who will fight for our right to live free from this crisis.”

Pava Marie LaPere Laws

Convicted rapists will no longer be able to earn diminution credits, also known as “good time” credits, after Moore signed the measure. The legislation was inspired by the killing of 26-year-old tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere in Baltimore last fall. The man charged in LaPere’s death is a convicted sex offender who had earned time off of his sentence for good behavior.

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Separately, a bill from the governor was passed creating a program named for LaPere that helps fund startup tech companies.

Health care access expands

The Access to Care Act will allow undocumented immigrants to use the state’s health exchange to buy their own insurance plans. The federal government has to sign off on the change, and it could take a couple years before it’s in place.

Compensation for crime victims and families

One of Moore’s public safety bills aims to improve the delivery of resources to crime victims to pay for funerals or seek needed mental health services. The state already had a victims’ compensation program, but protracted wait times kept families from getting financial resources to pay for unexpected funerals.

State’s attorneys Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County and Ivan Bates of Baltimore advocated for the state to expedite the funds to crime victims and families.

After Moore signed the Victim Compensation Reform Act of 2024, Braveboy said the move will “empower victims to be able to afford the services they need.”

Bates emphasized the challenges for prosecutors to try cases without victims’ cooperation. He said Moore’s actions, “shows the governor’s commitment to making the system fair for everyone.”

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch.

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