Maryland Senate juvenile crime bill progresses: Senate and House to reconcile differences

The Maryland State Senate voted 43-2 on Monday to pass its version of a proposed juvenile crime bill, sending it to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House’s version of the legislation.

Senate Bill 744 aims to address gaps in the juvenile justice system while providing accountability measures and needed services for young offenders. After weeks of debate, it gained broad bipartisan support in the Senate chamber.

“It’s a big step in the right direction, now we conference with the House and we move forward from there,” said Sen. William Smith, a Democrat from Montgomery County who sponsored the bill. “We’ll start this week – and there are some discrepancies between the House and Senate, we’ll reconcile these at conference and we’ll move forward with a good product.”

The two dissenting votes came from Democratic Sens. Jill Carter of Baltimore City, who left without commenting, and Charles Sydnor III of Baltimore County.

Sydnor’s key concern centered on the bill’s approach to incarcerating juveniles aged 10-12 who commit auto theft crimes. “What I heard the House do in terms of diversion for the first offense and then providing jurisdiction, to me, that makes sense. Hopefully that can be brought into the Senate version,” he stated.

While both chambers’ bills expand the Department of Juvenile Services’ jurisdiction to include 10-12 year olds, they differ on consequences for that age group committing auto thefts.

The Senate version creates a “Child in Need of Supervision” court petition process for programming. However, the House version automatically sends first-time offenders to a diversion program rather than through DJS.

Despite the differences, lawmakers expressed confidence they can be resolved in the conference committee. “It’s a difference between two bills, but it’s nothing insurmountable. So, we’ll be able to get through it,” Sen. Smith assured.

The final negotiated bill is expected to maintain expanded DJS jurisdiction while determining appropriate accountability measures and support services for Maryland’s youngest offenders involved in auto theft and other juvenile crimes.