Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | To prevent senseless killings such as the one that touched a key member of his administration, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation on Tuesday requiring a judge to confiscate firearms from people who have final protective orders filed against them.

The measures were among several public-safety and health-related bills that the governor signed in the last of three bill-signing ceremonies this year.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown led the effort to approve the domestic violence measure after his cousin was fatally shot last summer by an estranged boyfriend.

Of the 500 homicides in Maryland last year, Mr. Brown noted that 75 of them were related to domestic violence and 42 of those involved firearms. Mr. Brown described the legislation as a step in the right direction, and he emphasized that more must be done to protect victims.

“This is probably the single most important step that we have taken as a state to reduce the number of homicides, to enhance the safety for domestic victims of domestic violence, but it’s not enough,” Mr. Brown said at the bill-signing ceremony.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, signed two measures created to protect victims. One of the bills requires a judge to order firearms to be confiscated from people who have final protective orders filed against them for as long as the order is in effect. The other gives judges discretion to order people under a temporary protective order to give up their firearms.

The bill-signing ceremonies had a strong public-safety theme. Two of the most prominent bills address excessive action used by authorities in high-profile cases.

For example, the governor signed legislation that requires law-enforcement agencies to issue reports on SWAT team deployments in the state and to report whenever a SWAT team injures or kills a pet.

Last summer, police raided the home and killed the dogs of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo after drug smugglers sent a package containing 32 pounds of marijuana to his residence. Police later cleared Mr. Calvo and his family of any wrongdoing after learning that the smugglers had hoped to have a courier pick up the package shortly after it was dropped outside Mr. Calvo’s front door.

“It is very meaningful that something good will come from the terrible incident last summer when the county’s errant SWAT team forced entry into our home, shot and killed our beloved black Labradors, Payton and Chase, and terrorized my family as part of a four-hour botched raid,” Mr. Calvo said in a statement.

Mr. O’Malley also signed legislation aimed at tightening the use of covert police surveillance in Maryland police departments. The law prohibits covert surveillance unless police have reasonable and articulated suspicion of illegal activity. The legislation also requires the head of the police department to approve any covert surveillance.

The legislation was introduced after Maryland State Police conducted surveillance on activists’ meetings for 14 months in 2005 and 2006 - before Mr. O’Malley was governor. Dozens of activists were wrongly described as terrorists in a police database as a result of the surveillance.

Measures relating to health also were signed by the governor.

Mr. O’Malley signed legislation aimed at creating widespread use of electronic health records at doctors’ offices to facilitate more reliable and efficient transfer of health records.

The legislation, described as a first in the nation, increases state reimbursements to health care providers to pay for costs for adjusting to use of electronic records. The measure gives health care providers several years to improve medical record systems before reducing reimbursements to those who don’t use certified electronic health records.

To help foster youths, Mr. O’Malley signed a bill to guarantee health coverage to former foster children until they turn 21.

Mr. O’Malley also signed a bill to establish licensing for all athletic trainers practicing in Maryland, which has been one of the last states that does not regulate athletic training professionals.

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