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First-of-its-kind statewide gun violence prevention center coming to Maryland

BALTIMORE (CBS/AP) -- Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed a bill into law on Thursday to create a new statewide center to help prevent gun violence.

The governor described the center as the first of its kind since the White House urged states to form their own centers to better focus efforts to stop gun violence. Moore also signed two other measures related to guns into law, including a bill that would enable state and local officials to hold the members of the firearm industry accountable in civil court, if they fail to meet minimum standards to prevent harm.

Another bill expands the definition of "rapid fire trigger activator" to include auto sears, also known as Glock switches, banning them in the state.

Federal office coordinates efforts

Last year, President Joe Biden created the first-ever federal office of gun violence prevention, which is overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris. The office coordinates efforts across the federal government to offer help and guidance to states struggling with gun violence. The administration has called on states to create their own offices to help focus federal grants to reduce violence.

"Maryland became the first state in the nation to officially answer President Biden's call," Moore, a Democrat, said at a news conference during his fourth bill-signing ceremony of the year.

The center, which the governor proposed in his legislative package, is being created to foster a statewide partnership with federal and local agencies to reduce gun violence. The Center for Firearm Violence Prevention will be part of the state health department to implement a public health approach to the problem.

More public safety measures signed

The governor also highlighted other public safety measures he signed Thursday that were passed in the state's annual 90-day legislative session, which ended last month.

Two of the bills honor the memory of Baltimore tech CEO Pava Marie LaPere, who was killed last year. The rising star who founded EcoMap Technologies was brutally murdered at her Mount Vernon apartment building in September 2023.

One of the new laws will prohibit a person imprisoned for first-degree rape from receiving early release credits automatically for good behavior. The man charged in LaPere's slaying was released from prison in October 2022 after serving a shortened sentence for a 2013 rape because he earned good behavior credits behind bars.

Another bill creates the Pava LaPere Innovation Acceleration Grant Program to provide grants to technology-based startup companies founded by students.

"They will benefit future student entrepreneurs in the Baltimore area and they will protect other innocent victims," Frank LaPere, Pava's father, said of the bills Thursday. 

"They both make sure that the tragedy that happened to Pava never happens again, and they also celebrate the light that Pava was and that she still is," Moore, who had met LaPere, said.

Moore also signed a package of juvenile justice reforms into law that are aimed at improving accountability and rehabilitation in response to complaints about increasing crimes like auto theft and handgun violations in parts of the state.

"Children in the system do not have clear pathways to rehabilitation, and there is no meaningful oversight of this process," Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones said, before the governor signed the legislation designed to change that. "All the while, we've seen a spike in behavioral health issues and a proliferation of handguns in our communities since the pandemic. House Bill 814 acknowledges this reality and says we want to help."

Moore also signed other public safety measures he prioritized, including a bill to increase apprenticeships in public safety to help boost the ranks of law enforcement officers. He also signed a bill to compensate victims of crime.

The governor also signed a bill to create a permanent funding source for the state's 988 mental health crisis helpline by adding a fee of 25 cents to cell phone bills.

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