- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Supporters for tougher sex-offender laws won a surprise victory this week when they jammed the phone lines of Democratic Senate leaders after being snubbed by a Senate committee last week.

“The reason it got a vote is because the people of Maryland stood up and said we’ve got to pass this,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford County Republican and lead sponsor of the bill.

Advocates for the tougher laws, known as Jessica’s Law, said they made 300 to 400 phone calls to the offices of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, and to Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, after they waited five hours for Mr. Frosh’s committee to hear the bill, with a majority of the committee and Mr. Frosh absent from the room.

“It was an absolute travesty,” said Jerry Norton, president of Citizens for Jessica’s Law for Maryland.

Mr. Miller said a vote on the measure would have occurred regardless of the phone calls, but that no group should have to wait five hours for a hearing without the committee chairman present.

“I called [Mr. Norton] to apologize on behalf of the Senate and the very next day I explained to the Senate that was not to happen again on any bill,” Mr. Miller said yesterday.

Supporters expected the bill to languish in Mr. Frosh’s committee, but members supported the measure Wednesday after the barrage of phone calls.

Mr. Frosh, who was one of a few members who opposed the bill, said there is no “one-size-fits-all justice” but that he still believes in cracking down on sex offenders.

“Ironically, I’ve been criticized this session for being too tough on sex offenders and for being too lax,” Mr. Frosh said.

Jessica’s Law would impose tougher sentences on convicted sex offenders, including a minimum of 25 years in prison for convicted first-degree sex offenders and rapists and between five and 20 years for convicted second-degree sex offenders and rapists.

It was named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida resident who was kidnapped, raped and buried alive in 2005.

The legislation has been part of a national drive to crack down on sex offenders.

Maryland lawmakers rejected the bill last year, then passed a watered-down version during a special session.

The bill is expected to die this year in the House Judiciary Committee, the domain of longtime Chairman Joseph P. Vallario Jr., a Southern Maryland Democrat.

“The pressure is now on Chairman Vallario,” said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, a Western Maryland Republican.

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