- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in Annapolis has introduced legislation to make Maryland a little less criminal-friendly, at least when it comes to the early release from prison of sexual offenders who prey on children. Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, has introduced legislation (S.B. 5) to end the practice of giving sexual predators credits for good behavior in prison, which can reduce their sentences by close to one-third. Delegate John Olszewski, Baltimore County Democrat, and House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, are among those who have also introduced legislation to end the practice. Mr. O’Donnell’s bill (H.B. 252) has 48 cosponsors including Democrats like Delegate Curt Anderson, chairman of the Baltimore City delegation in Annapolis.

But in all likelihood they face yet another battle from some or all of the politicians who have played obstructionist roles in the past two years: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario, Prince George’s Democrat; Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh, Montgomery Democrat; and possibly the O’Malley administration — in particular Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who as a member of the House of Delegates worked closely with Mr. Vallario to water down legislation imposing mandatory minimum sentences on these predators in 2006.

Last year, the General Assembly took a step in the right direction by passing “Jessica’s Law,” named after Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was raped and murdered by a paroled sex offender. The law passed last year by the legislature imposed a mandatory 25-year prison sentence with no possibility of parole for persons convicted of a first-degree sexual offense against a child (typically a crime that involves vaginal intercourse through force or the threat of force.) The legislation, which passed the House of Delegates by a 139-0 vote and the Senate by 43-3 vote (the only opponents were Mr. Frosh and Sens. Dolores Kelley of Baltimore County and Lisa Gladden of Baltimore City) was signed into law last spring with great fanfare by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Before the measure passed, Mr. Frosh tried to keep it bottled up in committee, but was humiliatingly forced to let it come to the floor by Senate President Mike Miller. Mr. Vallario also tried to bury the bill in committee and was shown on national television calling Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Channel a “liar” for criticizing him. But Mr. Vallario later reversed himself and actually tried to take credit for mandatory minimums for sexual predators. Only months after Mr. O’Malley signed the bill into law did advocates of tougher penalties realize that it failed to correct a major problem: Predators remain eligible for good-behavior credits that can substantially reduce their time behind bars. The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Feb. 19 hearing on the issue. Mr. Frosh has yet to schedule a hearing on the Senate side.

Mr. O’Malley has yet to take a position on the bills, and in all likelihood he hopes the issue would just go away. But if his poll numbers continue to head south, he may decide he has no choice but to climb down from the fence and support this commonsense legislation.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide