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NOW YOU KNOW: Maryland’s Crime Epidemic Continues

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The following is a legislative update from Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki.

Over the last few years, many communities in Maryland have been plagued with a significant increase in crime. The carnival at White Marsh Mall was canceled recently due to juvenile disturbances. The other day, a near mob scene occurred at Towson Mall related to unruly kids.

We all feel the ramifications of our communities becoming increasingly more unsafe due to the soft-on-crime policies that the liberal leadership has pushed through in the last few years. The Baltimore County Police Department has reported that juvenile crime has increased 100% over the past few years. After setting a record of more than 11,000 cars stolen in 2023 in Baltimore City, in the first 20 days of 2024, over 441 vehicles were stolen, according to the Baltimore Police Department. That is about 22 cars daily, or almost one car stolen every hour! And astoundingly, that’s a 77% increase over last year.

Coming into Annapolis in January, lawmakers knew they had to address juvenile crime and specifically auto theft. Previous “reform” laws repealed consequences for juveniles under 13 and lessened consequences for all juveniles. The results of these soft-on-crime laws are predictable. Crime has increased.

This year, HB 814, The Juvenile Law – Reform Bill was introduced to address some of these issues. Currently, juveniles between the ages of 10 and 12 do not fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system unless they commit a crime of violence. Under this bill, these juveniles who illegally possess firearms will come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile system.

The Juvenile Law – Reform bill gives juveniles a pass on their first offense, and they will not be mandated to detention. For second and subsequent offenses, they will be eligible for detention within the system. In addition, juveniles in that age group who steal cars will get a mandatory Child in Need of Services (CINS) Petition. Juveniles aged 10-12 who commit 3rd-degree sexual assaults and certain extreme crimes involving animals will fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

Under the bill, juveniles who commit child sexual offenses and are put on the juvenile sex offender registry will fall under the same restrictions as registrants on the adult sex offender registry as it relates to attending public schools and entering school property.

As it was initially introduced, HB 814 was much better than the bill that finally passed. We voted for it, but know it does not have enough accountability for juvenile offenders. In the end, ten of the most liberal members of the General Assembly voted against this bill and all others voted for it.

Sadly, the liberal leadership in Annapolis is still soft on crime despite the increasing number of victims of crime. Instead of putting juveniles who commit crimes under the jurisdiction of the courts, they prefer a CINS petition. The CINS petition remands juveniles and their parents to counseling. Still, there is no consequence if the juvenile refuses to participate. We disagree with this philosophy. Juveniles engaged in illegal and antisocial behaviors must be remediated before they become adult felons. Talk therapy and social workers are not enough.

Delegates Nawrocki and Szeliga sponsored HB 304, also known as the Gun Theft Felony Act of 2024, which would have made the theft of a firearm a felony. Currently, it is only a misdemeanor to steal a gun. We have tried to pass that bill unsuccessfully for several years.

Another tough-on-crime bill sponsored by Delegates Nawrocki and Szeliga was the Safe Communities Act of 2024 or HB 310. This bill would have eliminated the diminution credits for criminals convicted of 1st and 2nd-degree murder so their incarceration period would not be reduced. This bill was critical in ensuring that violent murderers were not allowed back onto our streets early. The bill also prohibits the pretrial release of a defendant charged with a crime of violence if they have a pending violent crime charge against them or if they were convicted of a violent crime within the last 10 years. Violent criminals should not be released in just hours or days after being arrested for other violent criminal offenses. The leadership in Annapolis refused to advance this bill.

In 2023, a bill was passed to prohibit law enforcement from stopping a vehicle because of the smell of marijuana. Delegates Nawrocki and Szeliga also sponsored HB 320, which would have restored the ability of police to stop vehicles for the smell of cannabis, ensuring that motorists are not driving under the influence. Liberal leadership also did not approve of this bill, and it died in committee.

We will continue to support our brave law enforcement officers who do dangerous work to keep our community safe. We will continue to support bills that will bring law and order to our state and protect the public.

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