Future Will Judge Success Of New Laws

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There seemed to be a lot of folks patting themselves on the backs this week after a package of new sex offender bills was signed into law in Annapolis.

Pardon us if we don’t jump for joy over something that does not guarantee any child is safer today than they were four months ago when a young girl was kidnapped from her Parsonsburg home by a registered sex offender and then brutally killed.

The story of young Sarah Foxwell touched us all on Christmas Day, and her memory has been enriched by the fact her death caused legislators to institute new measures for keeping tabs on registered sex offenders as well as setting higher minimum sentences for child sex offenses, among other things.

There were a lot of statements made at this week’s signing of the package of bills, and many of them were long on optimism, hyperbole and political speak. One such example came from Governor Martin O’Malley.

“With my signature today, Maryland is moving forward with tough new laws to monitor and supervise sex offenders and increase mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offenders in our State,” said O’Malley.  “This comprehensive, tough and bipartisan legislation will help to ensure that every child in Maryland is protected.”

No matter what the legislature did earlier this year, there’s no way to say each child in the state is protected. That’s an exaggeration and epitomizes spin. Whether these new pieces of legislation will make a difference will be determined in the months and years ahead and on a case-by-case basis.

What the legislature did do this year was mandate lifetime supervision for violent and repeat sexual offenders, reform the Sexual Offender Advisory Board, which was created years ago but never truly formed, improve Maryland’s sex offender registry system, eliminate term-reducing sentencing mechanisms for pedophiles and bring the state into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act including increases to certain mandatory minimum sentences under Jessica’s Law.

The legislature may have done a lot in the way of improving the process governing how the state and the courts handle these sex offenders, but it’s outlandish to predict children are better protected today than they were last Christmas. That’s simply unclear at this point.

We all need to keep tabs of our children while they are at their most vulnerable and be careful who they associate with at all times. It’s good news to hear law enforcement officials, the courts and state agencies are going to be more aggressive with their handlings of these sick, disturbed individuals. However, to give a false sense of security and say the laws have been tweaked now and all is fine is irresponsible and naïve. The governor did not go that far this week, but the celebratory mood at the bill signing seemed to indicate those feelings exist.

Some of these measures signed into law this week will provide increased scrutiny for sex offenders once they get in the system. That’s a definite. However, the unfortunate truth here is there are many disturbed individuals walking among us hoping to prey on our most valuable community assets – our children. It’s incumbent upon all in the community to be vigilant. Combine a watchful, cautious spirit with this new package of laws and then we can say our children may be better protected.

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