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Maryland juvenile justice reform bill passes state Senate

March 21, 2022 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate passed a substantial juvenile justice reform measure Monday as lawmakers reached a milestone day in their 90-day session with three weeks left.

The reform legislation, which now goes to the House, generally says a child younger than 13 will not be subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile court for delinquency proceedings and may not be charged with a crime. But juvenile courts would have jurisdiction over a child who is at least 10 and has committed the most serious crimes, like murder and other crimes of violence.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jill Carter, is based on recommendations from a state panel.

The Senate also approved a separate bill last week that would prohibit a law enforcement officer from conducting custodial interrogation of a child, unless the child has consulted with an attorney.

A separate bill that would end the policy of automatically charging some children as young as 14 as adults for more than 30 different crimes has remained stuck in a legislative committee.

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Overall, though, Carter said the two measures that have been passed by the Senate take significant steps in reform.

“I still think it’s the most significant juvenile reform that we’ve passed since I’ve been a member of the legislature, which has been a long time,” Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who has been a legislator since 2003, said.

Jenny Egan, a public defender who was a member of the Juvenile Justice Reform Council, said she was disappointed the measure to end the automatic charging of some children as adults has stalled, but she said she believes the measures that have passed the Senate are significant, with potential for further progress in upcoming years.

Egan said almost all children charged as adults in Maryland are Black or brown who are disproportionately kept in the adult system more than white children.

“It’s a human rights violation that needs to and must be addressed, so we’re very sad that we didn’t get it over the line this year, but I do think that the legislature and the judicial committees really turned their attention to juvenile justice reform for the first time,” Egan said.

Lawmakers reached their crossover day Monday. It’s a deadline lawmakers set to try to have legislation they intend to pass clear one of the chambers. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn at midnight April 11.

Lawmakers are still working on the details for $350 million set aside in the budget for tax relief. Amid an enormous budget surplus, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has pushed for a gradual elimination of income taxes for retirees as well as making permanent an enhanced income tax credit for lower-income workers that was put into place last year as a temporary measure.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said senators were in close negotiations with the administration and the House.

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“I think we’re thinking about retirees. We’re thinking about relief for working families,” Ferguson said. “Nothing is off the table yet until we get to a deal.”

The Senate passed the state’s $58.5 billion on Friday. It’s now in the House.

As lawmakers enter the final three weeks of the session, they will also be taking up legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. The House already has passed a constitutional amendment to give voters the chance to decide the matter in November. The House also has approved legislation to enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s constitution. That proposal, as well as separate legislation designed to expand access to abortion in the state, is now in the Senate.