- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

If anyone in Annapolis should be celebrating Maryland’s return to one-party liberal rule, it should be Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario, Prince George’s Democrat. That’s definitely not the case today, because even in blue states like Maryland the public sensibly wants to make sure that rapists, child molesters other insidious predators are locked up.

But lawyers like Messrs. Frosh and Vallario don’t like mandatory minimum sentences and they have invested considerable effort in trying to ensure that Marylanders are denied the protection offered by “Jessica’s Law” — named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender. Mr. Frosh’s efforts to kill legislation to implement this law. S.B. 413. sponsored by Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil County Republican, became a major embarrassment in the past few weeks, as irate Marylanders deluged Senate offices with telephone calls supporting the Jacobs bill, and Senate President Mike Miller publicly rebuked Mr. Frosh for his committee’s shabby treatment of Mark Klaas — father of another murdered child — who was forced to wait more than five hours to testify on S.B. 413 while panel members took up less consequential legislation, including a bill that dealt with the chaining of dogs outside.

S.B. 413 will likely come to the Senate floor tomorrow night and it is expected to pass. The next major obstacle to reform is likely to be in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Mr. Vallario, who is to Jessica’s Law and other anticrime measures in Maryland what segregationist Democrats like Gov. George Wallace were to civil-rights legislation in the early 1960s — powerful and at times implacable opponents who can only be moved by an avalanche of public pressure.

During last year’s session of the General Assembly, for example, it initially appeared that Mr. Vallario had been successful in killing outright Jessica’s Law, which included mandatory prison sentences of up to 25 years for violent sex offenders. But after Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel attacked Mr. Vallario for blocking the bill, legislators were inundated with telephone calls and e-mails demanding prompt action. At a special session in June, lawmakers agreed to a compromise that mandated the 25-year sentence. Unfortunately, supporters of the bill say that at Mr. Vallario’s insistence, the legislation left these offenders (who include persons who employ a dangerous weapon, or suffocate, strangle, disfigure or inflict serious physical injury on the victim in the course of committing a crime) eligible for parole. This means that under current law, anyone convicted of such a crime will be able to get out on parole after serving only 50 percent of his or her sentence. That’s what S.B. 413 and the companion measure before the House of Delegates, H.B. 930, introduced by Delegate Chris Shank, Washington County Republican, would change. The legislation would ensure that this extraordinarily violent, dangerous class of predators is denied parole — by definition creating a safer environment for everyone else.

Assuming that the Senate passes S.B. 413 tomorrow, the action shifts to the House of Delegates — and in particular Mr. Vallario’s Judiciary Committee. If Marylanders want to make sure that predators remain locked up, they need to make that clear to Mr. Vallario, but they shouldn’t stop there. House Speaker Michael Busch seems to have gone into hibernation on this issue; it’s time that he hears what Marylanders think of Mr. Vallario and his obstructionism. And then there’s Gov. Martin O’Malley, so eloquent when the issue is saving the lives of murderers on death row, who has thus far been silent on Jessica’s Law. Perhaps he agrees with his lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, who as a delegate joined Mr. Vallario in his efforts to defeat Jessica’s Law last year.

It’s time for the public to contact these politicians by telephone or by mail, and to let them know firmly but politely that it’s time to end the obstructionism in Annapolis and pass legislation to ensure that violent predators remain behind bars.

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