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Committee kills sex offender bills

April 05, 2001

Committee kills sex offender bills



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A legislative committee left little hope that the Maryland General Assembly will address the problem of child sex offenders this year.

The House Judiciary Committee Thursday killed two bills aimed at keeping child sex offenders behind bars longer.

Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick/Carroll, sponsored the legislation in response to the rape and murder of 9-year-old Christopher Ausherman. The man charged in the Frederick, Md., boy's death had a history of sex crimes and had just been released from prison.

Instead of passing legislation, the committee decided to refer the bills to a task force charged with looking at reforming the whole system.

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Committee members didn't discuss the bills, killing them by convincing margins that fell closely along party lines.

Ferguson's bills, which had passed the Senate by wide margins, would have:

-- Eliminated parole and good time credits for child sex offenders.

-- Prevented prosecutors from plea bargaining violent sex offenses down to nonsexual crimes. This was intended to ensure that all sex offenders would be identified and required to register as sex offenders.

The committee adjourned before voting on a third Ferguson bill which would allow repeat child sex offenders to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

But committee members speculated that those bills would have the same fate as the other two.

Ferguson said he holds out hope that bill will pass this session, which ends at midnight Monday.

"That's the most important one. I don't think these people should be a threat to little 9-year-olds out on the street," he said.

Earlier this session, the same committee killed a proposal by Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, to put sex offenders into residential treatment programs.

The committee did approve one of Ferguson's bills, which requires sex offenders' names to be posted on the Internet. State officials are planning to post the names this fall, regardless of whether the bill passes.

The committee also complicated the bill's passage by tacking on an amendment, thus sending the bill back to the Senate before final approval.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services requested the amendment, which would bring the state's sex offender registry requirements into compliance with federal law. Unless the amendment is adopted, the state will lose millions in federal money, said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery.

The committee also amended the bill's title to remove the words "Christopher's Law." Ferguson had named his bills after the dead boy.

Some of the committee members questioned the effectiveness of Ferguson's lobbying effort.

Ferguson wrote letters to committee members that included a list of their bills for which he had voted.

"I thought it was a little over the top," said Del. Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery.

Barkley said he votes for bills based on their merits. He voted for two out of three of Ferguson's bills.

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