Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday signed into law bills aimed at improving public safety, including an expansion of the state's DNA database, as well as dozens of other measures such as legislation to prepare the state for growth that's expected from a nationwide military base realignment.
The bill signing was the third since the annual General Assembly session ended in April; a final ceremony is scheduled for next week, and it is then that the governor will announce any vetoes. O'Malley said yesterday that he made public safety a priority in a state that boasts some of the largest average personal incomes in the nation but also one of the highest violent crime rates, especially in Baltimore City.
"It's not acceptable, and it's not right that our state should be first in so many good categories and also near the top when it comes to the bad category of violent crimes," O'Malley said.
The Democratic governor also signed a bill to concentrate new growth around military bases and to provide financing for roads and other infrastructure in designated "BRAC zones." As many as 60,000 new jobs and 28,000 households are expected to come to Maryland by 2011 as a result of the base realignment, known as BRAC. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has taken the lead on efforts to prepare for the influx.
Other measures signed today include bills that outlaw slot machine-like electronic gambling devices; direct the state retirement and pension system to divest from foreign companies doing substantial business in Iran; delay a statewide ban on dishwasher detergent containing polluting phosphorus, and require insurers to provide discounts on policies if homeowners make improvements to mitigate storm damage.
The governor also signed legislation creating commissions to study the death penalty and the impact of immigrants, including undocumented workers, in Maryland, and legislation declaring walking as the state exercise and the Friday after Thanksgiving as American Indian Heritage Day.
The DNA bill was among the most contentious in this year's General Assembly session, and the governor only won passage of the bill after making concessions to the Legislative Black Caucus, which argued that the bill as originally drafted infringed upon civil liberties and would disproportionately affect African-Americans. Under the law, DNA samples will be taken from those charged with violent crimes and burglary; previously, samples were only taken after a conviction.
Despite efforts to assuage opponents, some lawmakers said they were still concerned about the state's ability to protect the genetic information. "It's a giant leap of faith," said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., an Eastern Shore Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee.
Other public safety measures included bills that would: allow law enforcement officials to release the names and photographs of juveniles who escape from detention centers and secure residential treatment facilities; expand the authority of Department of General Services Police to make arrests within 1,000 feet of state buildings and grounds in Annapolis, and require that sex offenders register their online screen names and identities.