Governor Martin O'Malley today joined Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, and Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown to sign important legislation aimed at making Maryland neighborhoods safer. Today, the Governor signed into law legislation creating a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, electronically linking the medical and pharmaceutical communities and providing a tool for Maryland law enforcement in cracking down on Maryland's fastest growing drug problem. The Governor also signed into law legislation closing a loophole in Maryland's gun laws and increasing the penalties for felons in possession of a firearm.
"Even in tough times, we've protected our investments in public safety, maintaining our commitment to protecting Maryland neighborhoods and families," said Governor O'Malley. "Thanks to these efforts, together, we've driven violent crime, property crime and total crime to the lowest rates ever recorded and today, we take another step in protecting Maryland families and keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals."
The Governor will join President Obama's Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, later today for a roundtable discussion on the establishment of Maryland's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The new system will focus on potentially addictive prescription drugs, and electronically link the medical and pharmaceutical communities. It will enable professionals to track use of prescription drugs and recognize trends indicating abuse. This will make it clear if a patient is engaging in "doctor shopping" and shed light on "pill mills," through which drugs are accumulated and sold illegally. When probable cause arises pointing to illegal use of certain prescription drugs, law enforcement will be able, with a subpoena, to draw on information from the system and follow up with appropriate criminal investigations.
"Prescription drug abuse is a scourge of communities across the state. By creating a monitoring program, we are taking a decisive step towards stemming the tide of prescription drug abuse in Maryland," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. "I want to commend Governor O'Malley, Lt. Governor Brown and Secretary Sharfstein for their work on this issue. Their leadership was critical to passing this law."
Governor O'Malley also signed into law SB 167, Public Institutions of Higher Education -- Tuition Rates -- Exemptions, providing in-state tuition to Maryland high school graduates regardless of the immigration status of their parents. Today, Maryland joins 11 other states, including California, Texas, New York, and Utah, in extending affordable college to Maryland high school graduates, regardless of the immigration status of the students' parents, provided they have paid taxes in Maryland and are on a path to citizenship.
"The signing of the DREAM Act shows that in Maryland we believe in the equality of opportunity for all who wish to give back to our great State," said Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. "Maryland's economy and future leadership have much to gain by removing financial barriers to help children who have attended and graduated from Maryland high schools access an affordable college education so they can better contribute to their communities."
In addition, Governor O'Malley fulfilled a commitment today he made earlier this year in response to the unacceptable power outages lasting as long as five days in parts of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties earlier this year. The legislation signed today establishes certain standards of reliability for Maryland utilities, and imposes fines for the failure to provide reliable service to Maryland customers. In January, Governor O'Malley asked the Public Service Commission to conduct an investigation into the failure of Pepco to adequately respond to widespread outages in its service area.
"Consumer protection has consistently been a priority for the Governor and Maryland General Assembly," said Speaker Michael E. Busch. "We continue this tradition today by signing legislation to protect Maryland electricity ratepayers from inconsistent service; protect Maryland children from the harmful effects of the bisphenol-A chemical; and help protect Maryland consumers from prescription drug abuse."
Governor O'Malley's commitment to public safety included the introduction of a bill this year to close a loophole in Maryland's gun laws. Legislation signed today expands the current prohibition against the use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime or felony to apply to any firearm, including long guns. The bill also expands the category of firearms certain felons are prohibiting from possessing to include rifles and shotguns and increases the maximum penalty for certain felons in possession of a firearm from 5 to 15 years.
Through the innovative use of public safety technology, unprecedented information sharing across borders, and strategic reforming of long-troubled public safety state agencies, law enforcement personnel throughout Maryland have driven crime to historic lows:
* Violent crime at its lowest rate ever reported.
* Homicides at their lowest rate ever reported.
* Robberies at their lowest rate ever reported.
* Aggravated Assaults at their lowest rate since 1976.
* Motor vehicle thefts at their lowest rate ever reported.
* Property crime at its lowest rate ever reported.
* Total crime at its lowest rate ever reported.
Governor O'Malley's FY2012 budget maintains our shared commitment to protecting our law enforcement, including those who work in Maryland's correctional facilities, while investing in advances in law enforcement technology to further support effective communication and information-sharing. In a continued effort to make Maryland the national leader in homeland security preparedness, the Governor's budget supports our state's abilities to respond to natural disasters, terrorist activities, pandemics, and other large-scale emergencies.