ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ/AP) — A measure to improve school safety cleared the Maryland General Assembly on Monday, less than a month after a shooting at a high school in the state left two students dead.
A package of legislation to fight crime and a measure to change the assembly’s sexual harassment policy as part of the #MeToo movement also were sent to Gov. Larry Hogan.
The school-safety bill would create a variety of standards and guidelines statewide. The bill would require public high schools to have either a school resource officer or plans for adequate law enforcement coverage by the upcoming school year. Other schools, such as middle and elementary schools, would need to have the plans in place for the school year that begins in 2019.
“People on both sides of the aisle came together to make this happen, and it’s a big bill,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat.
Lawmakers and the governor proposed legislation to increase school safety after the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. The issue has received extra attention after the March 20 shooting at Great Mills High School, where a student shot and killed a former girlfriend before killing himself.
A spokeswoman for Hogan said the governor planned to sign the bill.
“We made some real progress on that, and everybody in the state wants to see that happen because no mom or dad should ever have to worry when they send their kids off to school whether their son or daughter is going to come home safely,” the Republican governor said, shortly before the bill was passed.
Legislators already have set aside about $41 million in the budget to make school-safety improvements. The bill sets aside another $10 million annually in future years to help pay for the policing component. Some lawmakers criticized that provision, because the bill doesn’t allocate extra money for mental health services.
With the session set to end at midnight Monday, the Senate agreed to accept changes made by the House on two bills to battle crime, after the House carved up a comprehensive Senate bill over the weekend that had been criticized over sentencing provisions.
In response to criticism from criminal-justice-reform advocates, the House included a provision to allow people to expunge criminal records after 15 years for the crimes of burglary, theft, and possession with intent to distribute drugs.
The legislation expands wiretapping authority for prosecutors on gun investigations. Penalties for witness intimidation increase from five to 10 years for inducing false testimony or retaliation for testimony. One provision is aimed at helping to prosecute volume dealers of fentanyl, the lethal ultra-potent opioid.
The Senate also is taking up measures approved by the House to add funding to programs aimed at reducing crime. One of them adds $3.6 million to Baltimore’s Safe Streets program, which uses mediators to steer young adults away from violence and connect them to services.
The measures come after Baltimore had 342 homicides in 2017 and set a record for homicides on a per-capita basis.
The House, meanwhile, voted unanimously for changes to how lawmakers handle sexual-harassment complaints. It creates a framework for an independent investigator to handle complaints against legislators, unless the person who filed the complaint doesn’t want one. It extends the policy to cover lobbyists, and it prohibits taxpayer money from being used to settle a lawsuit involving sexual harassment.
“This is a landmark piece of legislation that is going to significantly improve the culture for women in Annapolis,” said Del. Ariana Kelly, a Democrat who sponsored the bill and was one of three female legislators last month who publicly discussed sexual harassment they said they had experienced while working in the statehouse.
Earlier in the day, the assembly gave final approval to a bill to help improve diversity in Maryland’s new medical marijuana industry. Hogan said he had not yet seen the bill and would review it.
Del. Talmadge Branch (D) of Baltimore supports the bill that calls for mandatory 10 year sentences for repeat violent criminals. His grandson was murdered last year.
“I think that hits high time we do something instead of slog absolutely nothing. I mean we have an issue in Baltimore. We have 342 families that have been victims of murder,” Branch said.
Activists fought against the bill down to the last minute. They’re concerned it will lead to mass incarceration.
“It’s not necessarily the murder who get caught, it’s the people that live in those neighborhoods that are swept up. And often tones the criminals that need to get caught, they don’t know anything about this legislation or laws that are happening,” said Adam Jackson of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.
Facebook was also a topic of conversation. Social networks will now be required to maintain records on political ads.
In the 90 day session, Gov. Hogan sometimes showed frustration. Monday there was praise.
“I want to thank the presiding officers and the legislators on both sides of the aisle in both houses for really working hard over the past 90 days and for accomplishing a lot for the people of Maryland,” he said.
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