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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 Maryland.
'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.