Thursday, March 18, 2010

MD Legislature Abandons Reason in Rush to Pass Sex Offender Bills Legislature abandons reason, good manners in rush to pass sex offender bills.

I was shocked at the disregard and outright rudeness shown to members of our group as we stood before the (Maryland ) Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 16 to oppose many bills (especially HB936/SB854 and HB736/SB434) aimed at sex offenders, with no real consideration for the lives of the vast majority of victims, and certainly none for the vast majority of nonviolent, low-risk offenders.

Members of the committee pointedly got up and walked out when we spoke. They made disparaging remarks and spouted hearsay as if it were evidence. We citizens, as well as many well-spoken professionals, presented the committee with solid facts and dire warnings about what has happened in other states with similar laws. We stressed that all of us agree that dangerous, repeat offenders (aka predators) should be locked up for life. But fewer than 3 percent of all offenders fit this category! These laws would indiscriminately scoop up children sending "dirty" pictures to each other, consensual lovers who are too far apart in age, flashers, child porn possessors (yep, even accidental,) and guys with vindictive ex-wives.

We presented the same facts in the House Judiciary Committee on February 23. Fewer Delegates were openly rude -- but they weren't listening, either. The amended bills they have passed are actually worse than the originals!

Both committees heard over and over again how public registration has failed to prevent a single predatory offense in any state using it. How the common mis-perceptions that "sex offenders" are incurable, guaranteed to re-offend, and always getting worse, are totally not backed up by any reliable research that has been done in the past 20 years. How people who committed an offense several decades ago, and have been law-abiding, productive citizens ever since, will find themselves placed on this public registry.

I can promise you, delegates and senators, that the whole state of Maryland will regret the day you vote these bills into law. Our children will continue to be raped and molested (mostly within their own homes, by people who have never been on the public registry), our citizens will continue to live their lives in fear (because they erroneously think they are surrounded by predators), and our state will discover, to its eternal shame, the incredible toll in human lives these bills will ultimately take.

You will see, to your regret, that we were right about the astronomical budget it will take to implement -- and defend -- these totally ineffective laws. The thousands of formerly law-abiding, free citizens who suddenly find their lives completely destroyed by a public registry are going to sue you for damages and fight until their cases reach the highest courts and these laws are struck down. They are heinous, unconstitutional, and protect no one.

Senators, delegates, we have made every attempt to appeal to reason. There will be absolutely no joy in saying "We told you so!" Instead, we will be weeping beside you.

Brenda Jones
Coordinator of Families Advocating for Intelligent Registries.