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Lawmakers OK bill to post sex offenders' names on Internet

March 09, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation Tuesday to post the names of convicted sex offenders on the Internet.

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Arguing in favor of the bill before the House of Delegates, Del. Sue Hecht said such a law would have prevented Roger Allen Zook, 58, from sexually abusing boys in Frederick County.

The former drum teacher is serving a 120-year prison sentence for abusing 18 boys. He is suspected of abusing more than 100 boys.

Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said Zook's previous record in Prince George's County would have been discovered if the information could have been easily accessed on the Internet.

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The state's sex offender registry lists about 500 people, including at least 11 from Washington County. It's available by writing to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

If signed into law by Gov. Parris Glendening, the registry could be posted on the department's Web site after Oct. 1.

All but one member of the Washington County legislative delegation voted for the bill.

"I'm not sure the Internet is ready for that type of legislation," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

He said he voted against the bill out of concern that it will hurt innocent people.

McKee read about a family in New Jersey, for instance, whose home was set on fire when neighbors thought a sex offender lived there.

Other opponents made similar arguments.

An innocent person could have the same name as a sex offender, argued Del. Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore.

Or, the sex offender's conviction could be overturned while the information remains public. Other sex offenders could reform themselves, opponents argued.

But Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, a co-sponsor of the bill, said most pedophiles are repeat offenders.

"They are at a constant risk to re-offend," said Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said posting the names gives law enforcement one more tool in the fight against child sexual abuse.

"Anything we can do as a state to help prevent child abuse is good," Donoghue said.

"To me, it's about protecting children," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Glendening has not decided whether to sign the legislation, although he supports the concept of informing communities about dangerous people, said his spokesman Ray Feldmann.

Hecht had been pursuing related legislation to target sex offenders who use the Internet to lure their victims.

She withdrew the bill because its wording could have given offenders a defense. With the help of the National Organization of Exploited and Missing Children, Hecht plans to work on a bill for next year.

"It's such a big issue. We want to be very careful," she said.

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