The 438th Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly was one full of accomplishments on very big issues. From crime reduction to cyber-bullying, domestic violence to drunk driving, education funding to access to health care, environmental protection to civil and criminal law, the 2018 session entailed spirited debate on important issues from start to finish.
I always strive to work hard for my constituents, and this session I am proud to have led the efforts to pass groundbreaking legislation in the areas of school safety, crime prevention, family law, cyber-bullying and protection of domestic violence victims.
Thank you for the opportunity to improve the lives of residents of District 11 and of all Marylanders.
This session marked my fourth year as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Judicial Proceedings, or JPR, handles issues concerning criminal law and procedure, civil law, family and juvenile law, estates and trusts, real estate, corporate law, transportation and vehicle law, and the like.
I am truly grateful to chair this committee that tackles some of the most challenging topics in the state. As one of the legislature’s few practicing attorneys, I strive to bring a practical perspective to the work of this committee. This year, JPR considered issues such as school safety, gun violence, crime prevention, expungement, cannabis laws, domestic violence and many others. The distinguished members of JPR worked tirelessly as a nonpartisan body to address these matters in our legal system. We believe that it is important to leave your party at the door, roll up your sleeves and work together on these tough issues for the common good.
This session, JPR promised to stay laser-focused on the outrageous levels of crime, particularly in Baltimore City, and we did so. The senate passed legislation that included record levels of funding for programs such as Safe Streets and the Witness Relocation Fund, held repeat violent offenders accountable for their criminal actions, and focused on issues such as witness intimidation, gun violence and gangs.
From that legislation emanated a number of other proposals that included additional expungement opportunities and a focus on repeat gun violations. By the end of session, a large package of legislation passed that takes a holistic look at crime, from stronger sentencing to treatment to funding. The governor will sign this legislation into law at the end of April.
We also focused heavily on the growing threat of cyber-bullying of children, defined as intentional harassment or tormenting by use of electronic means. With technology advancing rapidly, the threats to children are growing exponentially. The Senate passed significant measures that were unfortunately watered down in the House, but it is a start. Next session, we will return with the full package of legislation to protect children from online predators.
In addition to the crime package and cyber-bullying, our committee passed into law four significant gun control bills dealing with removal of guns from domestic abusers, banning bump stocks, reforming the Handgun Roster Review Board process, and creating a new ‘Red Flag’ protective order for individuals deemed an immediate danger.
We passed significant divorce reform legislation and an expansion of the protective order statute. We dealt successfully with the issues of revenge porn and ‘sextortion’ and enhanced penalties for volume drug dealers of the deadly Fentanyl. We worked to expand expungement opportunities for those who have truly put themselves on the right path. We passed protections for victims of sexual assault and a new evidentiary law related to prior bad acts in sexual abuse cases. We passed legislation to fund school safety initiatives. And we worked to expand the penalties for repeat drunk drivers creating carnage on our roads.
In short, it was a busy session!
After 90 days, the Maryland General Assembly has a lot of accomplishments to be proud of. I continue to believe that, despite what we see in Washington, D.C., the best way to move forward is working together. Solving problems requires tackling big issues regardless of the politics, listening to all sides of the debate, digging into intricate details, rolling up your sleeves and working together for the common good.
I believe that this is what the session of 2018 was all about, and I am excited at the results.
A Democrat, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin represents the 11th District in Baltimore County.