Women's agenda prepared for legislature

January 03, 1997


Staff Writer

Reforming hearsay laws in child abuse cases, strengthening civil orders of protection and cushioning the impact of welfare reform top the Washington County for Women's agenda for the Maryland General Assembly session that begins Tuesday.

Leaders of the commission outlined their goals before members of the Washington County delegation Thursday night. They urged lawmakers to take swift action to prevent women and children from falling through the cracks of a welfare safety net they contend is weakened by federal and state welfare legislation.

"There's also a limit to what the churches can do, both locally and nationally," said Cheryl Moyer Walkley, of the Washington County Community Action Council. "The churches do not have the end-all answers."


Walkley called for raising the Earned Income Set-Aside from 20 percent to 35 percent of a person's income. This would allow people to continue to receive public assistance after they have found a job.

"We're trying to create a stepping stone, a bridge," she said.

Shelby Higgins, executive director of the Washington County Free Clinic, urged legislators to improve health-care efforts aimed at the working poor. Funding for cervical and breast cancer programs is particularly vital for women, she said.

"Without it, people will die - period," she said.

Higgins said the 6-year-old health clinic does the best it can with a $135,000 annual budget and donated time from doctors and nurses. She said clinics like hers are in danger of being overrun by poor people who no longer are eligible for public assistance.

"You know where they're coming? They're coming to my place," she said. "What we are going to see is a less-healthy community."

Also high on the Commission for Women's agenda are reforms aimed at protecting women and children from abuse.

Commission member Cheryl Hershey, a former prosecutor with the state's attorney offices in Washington and Frederick counties, urged lawmakers to loosen the restrictions on who can testify on what abused children tell them.

Testimony from people who recount conversations with other people is usually inadmissible in court. However, the court will hear testimony on what young children tell teachers, doctors, psychologists or social workers acting in their official capacities.

Hershey said those categories should be eliminated so anyone can testify to what abused children tell them.

Judy Lions Wolf, chair of the commission's legislative committee, called for strengthening laws designed to protect women who file petitions for orders of protection.

The commission wants to extend the length of the order from 200 to 365 days, restrict abusers access to the home and increase police enforcement powers.

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