First Click, Maryland: Locking up sex offender bills
Your morning download of Maryland political news
Tuesday, March 16, 2010:
On Tuesday, the full House of Delegates is scheduled to debate a package of seven bills aimed at tightening Maryland's web of laws to monitor and supervise sex offenders - an imperative born out of the Christmastime killing of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell on the Eastern Shore.
The bills would: require lifetime supervision of serious and repeat offenders; bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act; expand the state's sex offender registry; eliminate early release for good behavior; and require judges to consider whether to lock up sex offenders charged with any crimes pending trials.
The package is the product of nearly two months of negotiations between members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Joseph F. Vallario, Jr., and the staffs of House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Gov. Martin O'Malley.
For the latter, Tuesday's floor debate (which sets up final votes on the bills in the House as early as Thursday), comes just in the nick of time. On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to begin its half of the process with opening hearings on some 40 pieces of sex-offender legislation.
On Monday, it was clear that O'Malley's staff and Democratic leaders in the House were hopeful that by having nearly completed the package in one chamber, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, would feel pressure to pass similarly tough legislation before the session concludes on April 12.
Since taking office, O'Malley's staff has not always had success in the Senate committee. It did not vote on two previous O'Malley sex offender bills after advocates for the poor and homeless raised concerns about proposed requirements that homeless offenders re-register every time they cross county lines.
On Monday, Frosh (D-Montgomery) again said he is concerned about unanticipated consequences and whether the proposals working their way toward approval in the House would go too far.
"I don't have a problem in saying that I think we have to look at this carefully," Frosh said. "I mean, we'll vote on these bills and pass some stuff that I think is going to be quite harsh in terms of dealing with sex offenders, but at the same time we've got to look at the unintended consequences. We can't just plunge into it."
He pointed to the phenomenon of teenagers sending one another naked pictures over cell phones, or "sexting," as one reason for caution.
"Child pornography is an abomination, but it's difficult to define and stamp out. ... I don't think what we want to do is corral all of these kids [who have taken cell phone pictures] and brand them as sex offenders and supervise them for the rest of their lives. Nobody wants to do that, but when you go in to this stuff with a broad brush, you run that risk."
Frosh's concerns aren't the only ones that suggest the final deal on sex offenders is far from complete. None of the seven bills heading to votes in the House deals directly with several concerns raised by the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maryland Children's Alliance, including a bill by Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) and one by Del. Norman H. Conway (D-Wicimico).
They would require the state's child protective services department or other authorities to investigate when social workers believe a parent or caregiver might be allowing a sex offender regular access to a child. Police say Foxwell was killed by her mother's former boyfriend.
The sex offender bills heading toward votes today in the House are: HB936, HB473 and HB931, based off legislation proposed by O'Malley's administration, and HB289 (Smigiel); HB599 (Olslewszki); HB1046 (Conway); HB1053 (Simmons and Stifler).
News You Should Know
Montgomery, Prince George's slash budgets
Maryland's two largest counties outlined spending cuts Monday that would reach from children's health clinics to nursing homes, slice tens of millions of dollars in education spending and furlough thousands of public employees," report The Post's Michael Laris and Jonathan Mummolo. "Drop-offs in revenue and in expected state aid are forcing officials in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, home to nearly a third of the state's population, to confront some of the same unforgiving math that has caused governments across the Washington region to propose cuts to popular programs and safety-net services."
Republican budget provision rewrites Maryland dropout bill
"A sharply divided Maryland Senate voted Monday night to advance a bill that gradually raises the required age for staying in high school -- but only if the estimated cost of the additional students is included in the state budget," writes The Post's John Wagner. "An amendment making the proposed policy contingent on available funding passed on a 23 to 22 vote following heated debate. Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset), who sponsored the amendment, said that lawmakers would be fiscally irresponsible to adopt the policy without ensuring they could pay for it. The bill would gradually raise the required age for staying in school from 15 to 17. Stoltzfus's amendment would make the policy "null and void" if the budget enacted by the General Assembly does not include at least $48 million to pay for it in fiscal year 2013 and $71 million in 2015."
Maryland public broadcasters faulted in audit
"More than $2 million paid to one vendor by Maryland's Public Broadcasting Commission may have violated rules that govern how contracts are awarded, according to an audit released Monday," reports The AP's Kathleen Miller. "State auditors said roughly $1 million paid to the direct marketer between 2005 and 2007 was done without commission officials seeking competitive bids, a written contract or obtaining the appropriate approval according to state law. ... Officials with the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission contested many of the audit's findings in a written response. The audit did not disclose the name of the vendor. Maryland Public Television's Executive Vice President Larry D. Unger refused to disclose the identity of the firm in question when contacted by The Associated Press."
Hospitals, lawmakers appear to have deal on Medicaid fraud
"The Maryland Hospital Association and health care officials struck a deal late last week that could help clear the way for a bill giving the state greater authority to find and penalize those who commit Medicaid fraud in Maryland," reports The Baltimore Business Journal's Scott Graham. "Before agreeing to support the legislation, hospitals leaders called for amendments that help clarify the definition of fraud, consider the impact of large awards on small health care providers and prohibit whistleblowers from bringing lawsuits about on their own behalf."
.... from Monday night's Senate debate on raising the required age for staying in school:
"This amendment creates a new precedent ... if there's money, we'll let kids [stay in school] after age 16, but if there's not enough money, we're not going to require them to stay. They're extra, they're on the fringes; we don't want to pay for them."
-- Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) speaking against Stoltzfus's amendment attaching funding requirements to efforts to reduce high school dropouts.
"We aren't throwing away these kids, we have done a great job in education. We just can't afford this right now while we're hurting other, desperate people"
-- Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) saying he's listened to too many stories about funding cuts in social services to support the measure without some measure of fiscal constraint.
"We should be counting our children in, and not out."
-- Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), the sponsor of the bill, argued against Stoltzfus's amendment.
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Aaron C. Davis
March 16, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner
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