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Lawmakers may toughen violence laws

February 10, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Lawmakers may toughen violence laws

ANNAPOLIS - After seeing previous legislation aimed at curbing sexual and domestic violence fail, two Washington County lawmakers are trying new approaches to address those issues in the Maryland General Assembly.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said she will file legislation this week that would require Maryland authorities to be notified when rapists, stalkers and other sexually violent offenders move into the state. Another Hecht bill would allow the state to eliminate "good time" earned by sexual offenders in prison.

Hecht's moves come a week after a House of Delegates committee killed a bill that could have committed so-called sexual predators to a psychiatric hospital after their release from prison. The legislation mirrored a Kansas law enacted after a 19-year-old woman was raped and killed by a co-worker who earlier had been convicted of rape.

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The bill drew criticism from civil libertarians and others who complained it infringed on a person's right to due process.

"I'm not terribly surprised (the legislation failed). It was such a controversial bill," Hecht said.

What did surprise her was that the House Judiciary Committee did not at least give her a consolation prize - a task force that would study sexual violence and potential legislation after the legislative session ends in April.

"I thought that was a real possibility, and that was what I was hanging my hat on, for this year anyway," Hecht said.

She said that is why she is forced to submit "piecemeal" bills that would solve some of the problems. But she is not giving up on filing another comprehensive bill, possibly next year.

"We have to have something to protect the general public," Hecht said.

Similarly, Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, saw Judiciary kill legislation he filed last year that would have required first-degree murder charges to be filed in cases in which people protected by protective court orders die at the hands of the people from whom they sought protection.

The idea was to prevent such defendants from avoiding a first-degree murder charge by claiming that such a murder was committed because of "raw emotion."

Critics argued the bill went too far, particularly because it would make the murder convictions death penalty cases.

Poole has returned with a similar bill, but without the death penalty language. He said it has a better chance this year.

"There are some people who ... want to protect women but are opposed to the death penalty," Poole said.

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