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Maryland to mark 'Freedom of the Press Day' by honoring journalists on anniversary of shooting at Capital

Maryland’s journalists — including five newspaper employees killed in their Annapolis office last summer — will be honored each June 28 after Gov. Larry Hogan and legislative leaders signed a resolution Thursday creating “Freedom of the Press Day.”

The resolution doesn’t dictate how the day should be observed, and plans still are shaping up. But Rick Hutzell, editor of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, is grateful for the gesture of commemoration.

“It is good to know we will not be marking June 28 by ourselves,” Hutzell said.

Hutzell and some of his colleagues attended the bill-signing ceremony with the Republican governor, Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Pro tem Adrienne Jones, also a Democrat.

The joint resolution was among nearly 200 pieces of legislation Hogan officially signed into law.

Photojournalist Paul W. Gillespie said he appreciates the honor for his fallen colleagues and the work that journalists do each day.

“We’ll never forget the five we lost but now, hopefully, everyone else won’t, either.”

Killed in the attack were editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, reporter and editor John McNamara, sales assistant Rebecca Smith and community news editor Wendi Winters.

A man who had a long-standing grudge against the paper is awaiting trial in November on murder charges in their deaths.

Freedom of the Press Day joins 16 commemorative days, six months and one week that are observed in Maryland. Some are well-known, such as Black History Month in February. Others are not, such as Maryland Charter Day on June 20, which marks the anniversary of British King Charles I granting Cecil Calvert a charter in 1632 to found a colony here.

Sen. Sarah Elfreth, who sponsored the resolution along with Democratic Del. Alice Cain of Anne Arundel County, said it’s unfortunate that Freedom of the Press Day will fall outside of the school year, when it could be used in lesson plans about journalism and democracy.

“Even if it’s something for parents to share with their children at home during summer break, that would be meaningful,” said Elfreth, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

“It’s a small measure, at the end of the day, considering the lives that were lost and the sacrifices that were made, both at The Capital and, frankly, across the world to maintain a free press,” Elfreth said. “But it was the least we could do in a terrible circumstance.”

The Capital is owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which also owns The Baltimore Sun.

More bill-signing ceremonies are planned for April 30, May 13 and May 23 as Hogan reviews hundreds of bills that were passed during this year’s General Assembly session. The governor has until May 28 to make a decision on each bill. He can veto them, sign them into law or allow them to become law without his signature.

Other measures Hogan signed into law Thursday include:

Johns Hopkins University Police

One bill will allow Johns Hopkins University to establish a police force of up to 100 armed officers to patrol in defined areas around its university campus in Homewood, the Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon and its medical complex in East Baltimore. While many public universities already have police departments, a law was needed to allow Hopkins, as a private institution, to have one.

The measure was controversial, with some students, faculty and state lawmakers expressing reservations about allowing a private institution to have a police force.

Johns Hopkins issued a statement Thursday saying that there will be a “multiyear process” to get the police department up and running.

University of Maryland Medical System

One of the final efforts of House Speaker Michael Busch before he died April 7 was a bill to revamp the board of directors of the University of Maryland Medical System after The Baltimore Sun reported that the companies of nearly a third of the board members held lucrative contracts with the system.

Miller said the bill’s passage will be part of Busch’s legacy — and will serve as a wake-up call to other institutions that they need to operate in an ethical manner.

“It sends a message to all nonprofits,” he said.

Grace’s Law 2.0

A bill from Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Del. Jon Cardin, both Baltimore County Democrats, updates Maryland’s cyberbullying law. Under the law, harassing a child online with the intent of inducing them to die by suicide is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The bill is named for Grace McComas, a Howard County teenager who ended her life in 2012 after she was bullied online.

Criminal justice

Other bills signed into law include measures that define felony human trafficking as a violent crime, increase penalties for individuals with repeat drunken driving convictions, and update the definition of making a threat of mass violence.

Another bill codifies a list of categories of hate crimes that must be reported to the Maryland State Police. State police spokesman Greg Shipley said the agency already is collecting the data required under the legislation, but sought to update language in state public safety law “to be certain” hate crimes are being reported properly.

pwood@baltsun.com

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