By Erin Cox
Gov. Larry Hogan signed a body camera bill Tuesday that supporters say would pave the way for equipping cops across the state with video equipment.
The law, which takes effect immediately, creates a commission charged with creating statewide guidelines on how police departments should use body cameras and recommending ways to pay for the programs by the end of this year.
The body camera law was among 350 bills the governor signed on Tuesday during a mammoth public session, enacting laws that govern everything from tax policy to maximum speed limits on state roads.
Baltimore residents' relationships with police -- and whether body cameras would alleviate public concerns over police conduct -- have been thrust into the national spotlight in recent weeks after the death of Freddie Gray who died from a spinal cord injury received while in police custody.
"Now, instead of it being a simply local, marginal concern ... it's a serious national issue that demands thorough airing and adequate reform," said attorney Billy Murphy, who represents the Gray family and attended the bill signing in Annapolis.
"Now Baltimore and the state of Maryland are under a national microscope, where there is literally an outcry for relief from the serious problem of police brutality," Murphy told reporters. "Body cameras is an essential part of solving that problem."
Murphy, a high-profile Baltimore lawyer, was not involved in passing the bill, which the legislature approved before Gray was arrested and injured while in state custody last month. But a series of police reforms that were considered and rejected by lawmakers this spring are now back on the table.
Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, is chair of a newly formed task force to consider police accountability and other public safety laws in hopes of convincing lawmakers outside the city to rewrite them.
"One of the problems we had this year is that all the bills were Baltimore-centric, and people thought all the problems only existed in Baltimore," Anderson said Tuesday.
Hogan also signed laws that would require police departments to report to the state statistics on police-involved deaths, increase the number of police cases that would be reviewed by the Baltimore City Civilian Review Board, and allow people convicted of certain non-violent misdemeanors to shield their criminal records from public view.
He also signed a law that would repeal a mandated stormwater remediation fee that has been decried by Hogan and critics as the "rain tax." That law still requires local governments to come up with a way to pay for stormwater projects and calls for more stringent reporting requirements.
Hogan signed his bill that would grant more flexibility to high-performing charter schools, allow the state's department of transportation to raise the maximum speed limit on certain roads to 70 mph and grant military retirees a slightly larger tax break on their retirement income.
Other bills that received his signature Tuesday modernize the state's public records laws for the first time in 45 years, establish a "business ombudsman" to improve the state's customer service for companies and create a new secretary of commerce to oversee business and economic development.
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