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‘Noah’s Law’ among bills that passed Maryland General Assembly

Parents of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta waiting to hear if "Noah's Law" has passed the Maryland General Assembly. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland’s General Assembly session ended with changes to the way police misconduct is handled, tougher laws for drunken drivers and sentencing reform.

But the session also ended without tax relief packages sought by Gov. Larry Hogan. In the waning hours of the 90-day general assembly session, Hogan said he was pleased that the session was ending with debates among Democrats on tax break packages. But by midnight, the proposed compromises on those bills cratered, leaving Hogan to declare, “unfortunately the Speaker of the House and the Senate president dropped the ball and didn’t get it done.”

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After the session ended at midnight, Senate President Mike Miller suggested that the two chambers could come back in a one-day special session to address differences in the tax relief packages. Hogan was not enthusiastic.

“These guys can’t seem to get their act together,” he said. “I’m not sure that would change with a special session.”

One area where Hogan and lawmakers could agree was on Noah’s Law, the bill that would require ignition interlock devices for anyone found driving drunk. Hogan said he was “100 percent behind this bill.”

The bill was named for Officer Noah Leotta, the 24-year-old Montgomery County police officer who died after being struck by a suspected drunken driver in December. Leotta was working on a drunken driving detail the night he was struck.

With passage of the bill, his father, Rich Leotta, said, “Noah will still be on patrol.”

While Mothers Against Drunk Driving representatives say Noah’s Law is the toughest interlock bill in the country, another bill aimed at stopping underage drinking passed but with changes that disappointed supporters.

Alex and Calvin’s Law was named for Wooton High School graduates Alex Murk and Calvin Li, the 18-year-old passengers who died in a crash in June after they attended a party where underage drinking had been allowed.

The host of that party was fined — the maximum penalty under the law at the time. The driver of the car involved in the crash pleaded guilty last week and is expected to be sentenced in June.

The bill as passed still calls for jail time for adults who serve alcohol to underage drinkers, but it adds conditions that supporters say water it down — in order to get the jail sentence, the offenders would have to have known that the underage drinker at their home was likely to drive, and any resulting crash would have to end with serious injury or death.

The amended bill also leaves the imposition of a jail sentence up to the judge. Originally, the penalty would have been mandated.

The sponsor of the bill, Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, said it’s not all that he had hoped for, but that passage of the bill itself was a milestone.

“We’ll have actual jail time for the first time in Maryland history, which is wonderful. We got it all done in one year and I’m grateful for that,” he said.

Fraser-Hidalgo said he hopes to return to toughen the bill next year, eliminating the conditions that make the prospect of jail time less likely.

In the area of criminal justice reform, mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated for nonviolent drug-related crimes. Another feature of the reforms would allow for earlier releases for those convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Changes in accountability for police misconduct include the formation of civilian review boards. Supporters were disappointed that civilians on those boards would not have investigatory powers, but welcomed other changes in the bill, including an emphasis on police training, community policing and tax credits for police who live in the same communities in which they work.

Other bills failed to pass before the end of the 90-day session, including a redistricting bill and a bill that would grant workers paid sick leave.

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