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Md. Senate passes bill to increase penalties for violent acts committed before a child

Governor Martin O'Malley, top, delivers his final State of the State address on Jan. 23. Clockwise from top: O'Malley, Michael E. Busch-Speaker of the House, Anthony Brown-Lt. Governor, Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge, Maryland Court of Appeals, Doug Gansler-Attorney General, and Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, Jr.-President of the Senate. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Maryland is on the cusp of increasing penalties for those found guilty of committing a violent crime in the presence of a child, after the Senate approved the legislation in a 47 to 0 vote Thursday morning.

The legislation — which is part of a package of bills related to domestic violence that is sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and his administration — states that in addition to facing prison time for committing an act of violence, people who do so when a child between ages 2 and 18 is “within sight or hearing” should face up to another five years behind bars.

The bill contains a list of violent crimes for which these new penalties would apply, including murder, rape, robbery, car-jacking and kidnapping. Advocates for domestic violence survivors testified earlier this year that the increased penalties would be a recognition of the damage done to the invisible victims of domestic violence — children.

Similar legislation was passed by the House of Delegates last week in a 136 to 0 vote, although it is not quite ready for the governor to sign into law. O’Malley said in a statement that when it is ready, he looks “forward to signing this bill into law when it reaches my desk.”

Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown (D) testified in favor of the legislation and praised its passing. In a statement Thursday, Brown said that children who have been exposed to family violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, suffer from depression and have difficulty in school.

“We’re sending a clear message: in Maryland, we hold all abusers accountable, especially when they commit acts of violence in front of children in a home,” Brown said. “This legislation will give judges the ability to add time to the sentences of those who are responsible for these atrocious acts.”

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.

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