Moore signs bills to tighten juvenile justice, expand gun safety measures - Maryland Matters (2024)

Moore signs bills to tighten juvenile justice, expand gun safety measures - Maryland Matters (1)

Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed a juvenile justice reform bill Thursday that makes younger juveniles subject to state oversight in criminal cases, a move supporters said will combine accountability and rehabilitation to the benefit of children.

“It really comes down to facing facts: Children in the system do not have clear pathways to rehabilitation and there is no meaningful oversight of this process,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), a sponsor of the bill, said at Thursday’s bill signing session.

“Children carrying illegal guns, harming animals or attempting rape need a juvenile system that acts swiftly, shares information, makes better decisions and is accountable,” Jones said. “Let me be clear: this issue does not end with House Bill 814.”

But criminal justice reform advocates say the bill goes too far and that legislation approved two years ago – specifically Juvenile Justice Reform and Child Interrogation Protection Act bills – need more time to have an impact. One major complaint is that HB 814 gives the Department of Juvenile Services jurisdiction over children as young as 10, a change they say is based on “fear rather than evidence.”

“In signing HB 814, Governor Moore will be sending many more children—disproportionately children of color—into the juvenile legal system, compromising their futures without achieving meaningful benefit to public safety,” said a statement from the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition.

“Our governor and state leaders know that kids need support and services, not punishment and incarceration, and that this bill will prolong the shameful record of racial disparities within Maryland’s juvenile justice system. We have a right to expect better than this,” said the coalition of state and local organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

The bill was one of nearly 350 signed Thursday – 268 signed in an hours-long public ceremony and 77 signed in private – ranging from health care for migrants to the state’s $63 billion budget for fiscal 2025. But most of the attention was focuses on a series of public safety bills, including HB 814.

Moore signs bills to tighten juvenile justice, expand gun safety measures - Maryland Matters (2)

Gov. Wes Moore, center, poses after signing HB 947 into law. He is flanked by Senate President Bill Ferguson, left, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones. Photo by William J. Ford.

That bill would send youths under DJS jurisdiction to juvenile court if charged for certain crimes such as a third-degree sex offense, aggravated animal cruelty and some firearm offenses. State’s attorneys could review complaints and case files of children under DJS supervision, and minors could be sent to a diversionary program managed by a prosecutor’s office, or a community-based organization.

Moore defended the bill at Thursday’s signing ceremony.

“I made a promise when we first came on board that I would never spend my time simply giving thoughts and prayers and attending funerals without passing a single piece of legislation, or without doing anything to be able to make the issue any better for the families we are here to serve,” Moore said. “In this administration, we decided to move differently.”

Lawmakers began discussing ways to revamp the state’s juvenile justice system after a mass shooting last summer at the Brooklyn Homes community in Baltimore that killed two people and injured more than two dozen. That discussion took off in November, after Baltimore police arrested a 12- and a 14-year-old in connection with an assault, robbery and attempt to steal a woman’s car. After their arrest, police returned the youths to their homes.

Part of the measure requires a Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform and Emerging and Best Practices to review the department’s education and diversionary programs, research evidence-based programs and review deaths that involved children under DJS supervision. The commission begins next month, while the rest of the law takes effect Nov. 1.

Moore also signed Senate Bill 652, sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City), that requires DJS to document whether juveniles were involved in fatal and nonfatal shootings, their ages and county or residence. It also requires a report, by Dec. 1 to the best practices commission and the General Assembly, describing the process and actions taken by the agency after each incident.

‘It’s about bad actors’

Other public safety legislation signed into law Thursday include House Bill 583/Senate Bill 475 to create a Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention, which was requested by the Moore administration.

The center, in the state Department of Health, will focus on a data-driven public health approach to preventing gun violence and call for collaboration between state and local government agencies, hospitals and community-based violence intervention programs.

The bills’ fiscal note said it will cost about $2.1 million next year to hire an executive director, an epidemiologist and a program manager. Another $10 million would be allocated in fiscal 2026, including funds for contractual services, grants to community organizations and “academic partners” and ongoing personnel and operating costs.

The center is modeled after the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention established in September. Two members of that office, Gregory Jackson Jr. and Rob Wilcox, attended Thursday’s bill signing. The bill takes effect Oct. 1.

Another public safety measure signed Thursday is House Bill 947 – the Gun Industry Accountability Act – sponsored by Del. N. Scott Phillips (D-Baltimore County). It would let the attorney general or local state’s attorneys sue firearms manufacturers and gun dealers.

Phillips said the legislation, which takes effect June 1, doesn’t target responsible and law-abiding gun owners.

Moore signs bills to tighten juvenile justice, expand gun safety measures - Maryland Matters (3)

Frank LaPere looks over Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s shoulder as he signs a bill a bill inspired by the murder of LaPere’s daughter, Pava. Photo by William J. Ford.

“What we’re trying to do is just address this issue that creates violence in our community where people get a hold of guns that they shouldn’t have,” he said. “Those people that are doing the right thing in this industry [would] continue to sell guns, and the people that have those rights would be able to get those guns. It’s not about Second Amendment rights. It’s about bad actors.”

But Mark Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, told WTOP News on Thursday that it’s not a matter of if his group will file a suit, but when.

“My advice to the attorney general would be to tread carefully and pick your cases,” he said. “[State lawmakers] are blaming the wrong people for harm to the public. They ought to be focusing on the criminals who misuse them [guns] who illegally possess them.”

Other legislation

Before the ceremony, Moore gave two ceremonial pens to Frank LaPere, whose daughter, Pava LaPere, 26, was found dead on the rooftop of her apartment building in Baltimore last year. Moore and LaPere embraced among a standing-room-only crowd inside the governor’s reception room.

LaPere had pushed for passage of Senate Bill 1098, sponsored by Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), that eliminates good behavior credit that could allow early release of violent sex offenders. The man charged in Pava LaPere’s murder, Jason Dean Billingsley, 32, was a convicted sex offender released from prison early due to good behavior credits.

Pava LaPere, the CEO of a Baltimore tech company, was remembered in two bills that give $50,000 grants to student entrepreneurs. House Bill 582 and Senate Bill 473, which were named after LaPere, would make qualified start-up companies established by college students in the Baltimore area eligible for state grants.

That program, which would run from July 1 through June 30, 2027, was part of Moore’s legislative agenda.

His agenda also included House Bill 597/Senate Bill 470 – Growing Apprenticeships the Public Safety Workforce, also known as the GAPS Act – signed Thursday. The new law would reform the state’s existing apprenticeship programs to encourage more people to serve in law enforcement. Under the one-year program, a police department or correctional services office could get up to a $5,000 grant for candidates who enroll in the agency’s apprenticeship program.

The administration also backed House Bill 575 (Victims Compensation Act), which had the support of Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates (D).

Moore signs bills to tighten juvenile justice, expand gun safety measures - Maryland Matters (4)

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, right, speaks with reporters May 16, 2024, in Annapolis. With here is Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates. Photo by William J. Ford.

The legislation requires that crime victims, their family members and loved ones receive faster access to money for immediate needs such as funeral and emergency relocation expenses. A Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which would be expanded from five to seven people, would review claims for those expenses.

Currently, the board or employees with the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services must complete a review of claims and any other documentation within 90 days. The bill shortens that timeline to 30 days.

The bill also increases funding for funeral expenses from $7,500 to $10,000; for mental health counseling from $10,000 to $45,000; and repair or replacement of property damaged in a crime or during a police investigation of a crime from $250 to $2,000. The bill takes effect July 1.

“We think this is a step in the right direction,” Braveboy said outside the State House Thursday.

The governor also signed House Bill 728, sponsored by Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery), and Senate Bill 705, sponsored by Sens. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel), directing the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to seek a waiver from the federal government to let Maryland residents purchase an individual private health care plan, regardless of immigration status. The Access to Care Act takes effect Oct. 1.

“Maryland is making substantial progress this year to help us reach the goal of ensuring that no Marylander has to go without health coverage,” Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said in a statement Thursday. “This will have no cost to the state and as we get more and more of our residents covered, we all benefit as we reduce uncompensated hospital care for which we all pay with higher premiums.”

Moore signs bills to tighten juvenile justice, expand gun safety measures - Maryland Matters (2024)


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