Gov. Martin O'Malley, speaking in a part of the state shaken by the death of an abducted girl, said he is considering pushing for legislation allowing Maryland to seek civil commitments for sexual predators after they serve prison sentences.
O'Malley, who gave his annual speech Thursday to the Maryland Association of Counties' winter conference, mentioned last month's death of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell, whom police say died after she was abducted in Salisbury by a registered sex offender.
"These tragedies motivate everybody to re-examine what we're doing and what we can do better to try to prevent things like this from happening in the future and to save more lives," O'Malley told reporters after the speech.
O'Malley said many ideas on how to stop sexual predators from harming children in wake of Sarah's death are being discussed by lawmakers.
"We're open to all suggestions," O'Malley said.
The governor spent much of his speech talking about public safety, and he avoided delving into details about how he plans to handle the state's $2 billion budget deficit.
On the state's budget challenge, O'Malley said he will be focusing on job creation. In general, though, O'Malley said it would be a tough year, even after revenue estimates last month indicated that state revenues aren't dropping nearly as much as they had been.
"We're not rebounding. We're leveling off," O'Malley said. "What does that mean bottom-line in terms of the budget? It means to the best of our ability we're all going to have to dig deep and suffer this next year with level funding."
Still, O'Malley told local officials that the state will be able to proceed with capital projects, because of the state's Triple A bond rating.
"So we are going to be able to do things that hopefully will have an impact on the job loss that's out there and get Maryland through this," O'Malley said.
That's important, O'Malley said, because Maryland has lost 18 percent of its construction jobs, compared to 13 percent nationally.
O'Malley said his administration has been focusing on increasing alignment between state, county, municipal and federal law enforcement resources to improve public safety.
As an example, O'Malley cited the Capital City Safe Streets Program in Annapolis, which officials credited with helping to bring down homicide numbers in the state capital where eight murders in 2007 marked a record high. The program pooled local, state and federal resources to fight crime in Maryland's capital city. O'Malley said a similar program was recently launched in Salisbury.
At last year's conference, O'Malley told local officials there would be "lots of cuts all around" to address a $1.9 billion budget deficit. O'Malley, who must submit the state's annual budget later this month, finds himself in a similar predicament this year — as the state faces a deficit of about $2 billion.
But his speech to county officials largely avoided any talk of upcoming budget cuts. O'Malley likely will be confronted with the unpalatable task of including more layoffs and furloughs in the budget.
O'Malley also underscored a job creation tax credit he will be pushing in the Maryland General Assembly's session, which begins Wednesday. The plan would offer a one-time $3,000 tax credit to Maryland businesses that hires an unemployed state resident.
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