State OKs New Child Shield Laws

ANNAPOLIS – Maryland sex offender laws got much stronger
this week when both the House and Senate passed the so-called Jessica’s Law,
which includes among other things no possibility of parole for convicted
offenders serving minimum mandatory sentences.

The full House approved House Bill 930 with a unanimous
138-0 vote, while the Senate approved the companion bill, Senate Bill 413, by
an overwhelming 43-3 vote. The bill, now headed to Gov. Martin O’Malley for
approval, adds some teeth to a series of sex offender laws passed in the
General Assembly last year, including harsher minimum sentences, improved
offender tracking policies and expanded community notification.

However, the bills approved last year did not remove the
possibility of parole for sex offenders serving minimum mandatory sentences,
which increased the possibility of convicted offenders being released back into
society early. After a public outcry and a strong lobbying effort carried out
by several activists groups including a handful in Worcester County, state
lawmakers introduced and ultimately approved Jessica’s Law, which tightens the
laws covering sex offenders in Maryland.

The bill is named for Jessica Lunsford, who was abducted, raped
and killed by a registered sex offender in Florida two years ago.

Delegate James Mathias, who actively supported the bill,
said this week its passage represents increased safety for children in

“This is a great thing,” he said. “It’s one of the most
important things we can do for our children. Eliminating the possibility of
parole helps eliminate the possibility these offenders can strike again.”

Mathias said Jessica’s Law attracted the second most
attention among his constituents.

“This one was very important to the people of our area,”
he said. “The most constituent involvement was for the smoking ban, and
Jessica’s Law was second in terms of the number of letters, calls and emails.”

While Jessica’s Law soared through the House and Senate,
another bill introduced that would have greatly limited areas where known sex
offenders can live died in the House Judiciary Committee last week. House Bill
704 would have prevented known sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of
areas where children are known to congregate including schools, parks, day care
facilities, ball fields and other public places. Had it been successful, the
bill would have virtually eliminated the possibility of known sex offenders
living in Ocean City.