Md. Republicans try to redirect sex-offender debate
The Republican minority in Maryland's House of Delegates stalled a package of bills to tighten sex offender laws Tuesday, saying the toughest measures that Republicans had proposed had been watered down or left out completely from a package negotiated by House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's).
Republicans used a procedural move to delay votes on seven sex-offender bills until Wednesday, and said they would introduce amendments then that would attempt to reconstitute a bill sponsored by Republican Dels. Steven R. Schuh (Anne Arundel) and Michael D. Smiegel Sr. (Cecil). That bill would have required mandatory 20-year minimum sentences for sexual assaults on children that do not involve weapons. The bill was not voted on in Vallario's committee. Another Republican amendment would seek to spell out clearly in state codes how many feet convicted sex offenders must remain from schools, parks and day-care centers, said Del. Richard A. Sossi (R-Queen Anne's). One of the bills passed by Judiciary leaves that perimeter up to judges on a case-by-case basis.
To put an exclamation point on the delay, Republicans appeared outside the State House with Mark Lunsford, father of Jessica Lunsford, the 9-year-old raped and killed by a Florida man in 2005, who sparked the federal Jessica's Law. Lunsford flew to Maryland on Monday to testify Tuesday on behalf of some of the toughest sex-offender laws being considered by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
At the news conference, Lunsford said Maryland's second-degree mandatory minimum of five years in prison is way behind that in Florida, which has mandatory 25-year sentences for many child sex offenses, and in Texas, where repeated sex offenses against children under the age of 12 can make predators eligible for the death penalty.
"The message to sexual predators [in Maryland] is, 'Hey, don't have a weapon, and don't have anybody with you when you do it, and we'll only give you five years.' Are we crazy? Should we be telling them this kind of message? ... How about 25 years to life to start with? Let's start with that. It's time to get strict. Let them challenge the laws that we write. Let us write them as tough as we can, and let them challenge us."
Republicans' reinvigorated focus on lengthier sentences comes at a turning point in the General Assembly's attempts to respond to the Christmastime killing of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell on the Eastern Shore. The House is likely vote Wednesday and Friday on the package that includes most of the provisions sought by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
On Tuesday, the focus was shifting to the Senate, where O'Malley's staff and Democratic leaders in the House said they are hopeful that they can convince Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, to pass similar legislation before the session concludes 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.
Frosh says he expects that his committee will approve harsh new penalties against sex offenders, but said he is again concerned about unanticipated consequences and whether the proposals working their way toward approval in the House would go too far.
Advocates for victims of sexual assault also say the House package fails to require the state's Child Protective Services 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.
Aaron C. Davis
March 16, 2010; 1:58 PM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis
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