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Local delegates happy with sex offender bill

June 18, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, contended Thursday that the General Assembly had "solved one problem, but created a bigger problem with the electric bill."

The problem he believes is solved is tougher sentences for people who sexually abuse children, and better monitoring of sex offenders when they are released from prison.

After dealing with the energy bill, lawmakers took up a sex offender bill that died in the waning hours of the regular session in April. With some minor modifications, the final version was approved Thursday just before daybreak.

The bill, which includes some mandatory sentences for perpetrators older than 18 who commit sexual crimes against children younger than 13, had unanimous support in the House, and had only five negative votes in the Senate.

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Conviction of first-degree rape or sexual offense against a child will bring a mandatory 25-year sentence. A second-degree offense will bring a minimum five-year sentence.

The legislation also requires offenders to report more often once they are released, and to submit DNA samples and yearly photographs so the state can keep better track of where they are. Failure to report will result in a felony charge.

The mandatory minimum sentences became a sticking point in the regular session, when Del. Anthony Brown, D-Prince George's and a candidate for lieutenant governor, got them amended into the bill being considered then. Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh objected to the mandatory minimums when the bill reached his chamber, and the bill died after heated arguments on the Senate floor.

But this time, Frosh cast the only dissenting vote in his committee. After some wrangling over whether to deny parole to sex offenders, the bill finally cleared both houses.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich has said he will sign it.

"I'm ecstatic that we were able to pass this bill," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, a major proponent of increasing penalties and monitoring for sex offenders.

"I'm pretty happy we got something done on mandatory minimums," added Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick. "I was surprised, frankly, that we got that done."

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