House, Senate negotiating on registry, prison terms with adjournment Monday
Maryland lawmakers are negotiating down to the wire on an overhaul of sex offender laws that they hope will be the hallmark of this year’s General Assembly session, which ends Monday.
They arrived in Annapolis in January promising to improve a system universally acknowledged to be flawed. Weeks earlier, an 11-year-old girl was murdered on the Eastern Shore, and a registered sex offender was later charged in the capital case.
Delegates and senators have signed off on a few of some 80 proposed fixes, including lifetime supervision of violent sex offenders who have been released from prison and elimination of good-behavior credits for those still behind bars.
But they remain deadlocked on what victims’ groups call some of the most significant proposed changes: longer mandatory prison sentences for child molesters that Republicans have long sought; and federally required reforms to the state’s publicly available sex offender registry that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is seeking.
Some advocates are furious about the delays. They say lawmakers are “playing games” to appease one or two reluctant members instead of acting on key legislation that received near-unanimous approval in the Senate and House of Delegates – although in slightly different forms.
Negotiations have yielded little progress. On Saturday, key lawmakers said they still weren’t planning to budge.
“It’s very, very disheartening,” said Joan Harris, a Catonsville resident and president of Citizens for Jessica’s Law, which has worked for years to increase prison sentences for child predators.
“We just felt like this was the year,” she said, because of the coming election and the “horrible, tragic” case of Sarah Foxwell, whose body was found on Christmas Day on the Eastern Shore after a search involving 2,000 volunteers. The man charged, Thomas J. Leggs Jr., had been convicted of sex offenses in Delaware and Maryland.
Lisae Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault said she is “very concerned” that the sex offender registry overhaul might not pass, calling it one of several “important victim bills still up in the air.”
Proposed changes to the registry include, for the first time, adding the names of those who commit sexually motivated acts of indecent exposure or possess child pornography. People who list themselves as “homeless” on the registry also would have to provide more information.
Many of the registry revisions were designed in part to bring Maryland into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, and avoid cuts in federal public safety funding.
O’Malley identified strengthening sex offender laws as a priority this year, referring to the Sarah Foxwell case in several speeches. He put forward three measures, including lifetime supervision, reformation of a state sex offender advisory board, both of which have been approved, and registry changes.
By the time you finish reading this, 15 children will have been abused; In the next five minutes, 30 more; Within the next hour, 360 more; And by tonight, close to 8,000+ children will have suffered from abuse, 5 of which will die. Child abuse has increased 134% since 1980 and is now considered a worldwide epidemic. The high jump in child abuse deaths and the shocking increase in statistics highlights the frightening lack of public knowledge.
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