Tuesday, March 2, 2010

MD Legislators Try to Limit Voting Rights of Sex Offenders

Baltimoresun.com: Is state wise to treat all sex offenders the same?

I doubt it will be noted anywhere but here -- because the bill was withdrawn Monday-- but to give you an idea of the extent to which members of the Maryland General Assembly will go to protect "we, the public," please consider House Bill 656. It would have prohibited convicted sex offenders from going to Maryland schools even to vote on Election Day.

I found this while searching through the dozens of bills that have been filed in Annapolis in this election year, ostensibly to tighten loopholes in the state's sex offender laws.

HB 656's sponsors included the following delegates: Impallaria, Boteler, Costa, Dwyer, George, Kach, Krebs, McComas, McDonough, Miller, Schuh, Shewell, Sossi and Stocksdale. (I would use their first names, but I don't want to embarrass them.)

The bill, indexed under "sex offenses," would have required "an individual who is a felon to vote only by absentee ballot." It would have prohibited "a felon from voting at a polling place." And it would have "limited a provision of law allowing specified registered criminal offenders to enter onto school property for the purpose of voting only to registered offenders who are not felons."

That last reference - "specified registered criminal offenders" - is a reference to sexual offenders; they're the ones we keep on an Internet registry that would grow larger, covering offenses that occurred up to 25 years ago, under legislation in the General Assembly this winter.

HB 656 would have protected Maryland schoolchildren even when they aren't in school, Election Day. The bill got an unfavorable report after first reading and a hearing last month, and it was listed as withdrawn on Monday. So it's not happening. But still, it provides more evidence of the strikingly transparent effort to score points with voters by exploiting public fears about the men and women among us convicted of sexual offenses. There are already numerous laws on the books restricting them from all kinds of activities - even their own children's school events - and their names, photographs, addresses and offenses are listed on the state registry for the world to see. And still it's not enough for the pols in Annapolis, who use the issue to prove their tough-on-crime bonafides.

Within the last week, I've received numerous comments from readers about this, and I'm surprised - and delighted -to report that the majority seem to see through the politicizing of this criminal justice issue. They question the effectiveness of the sex offender registries, and that includes some readers who are in law enforcement. There's good reason for that -- the majority of offenses, for instance, are committed by first-time offenders, and first-time offenders aren't in the registry - but in the current hysteria, that doesn't even seem to be a question in Annapolis.

Among those who've responded to my last two columns on this subject have been people convicted of sexual offenses, or their relatives -- a constituency almost never heard from, and for practical reasons; they're in the state's sex offender registry and they have no desire to draw any more attention to themselves.

Sunday, I received an e-mail from a 56-year-old offender I'll call Rick for the sake of this column. He asked not to be identified, saying he was concerned about the effect of further publicity on his teenage children and the reaction of his neighbors in a Baltimore suburb. He told me about his offense -- sex with a minor in 2002, and a guilty plea on a third-degree sexual offense -- and I checked it out. That has been his only crime, Rick said, and the records support him.

He, like other offenders, has been watching the news out of Annapolis as legislative leaders try to, among other things, expand the Internet registry to include older crimes and those committed by juveniles. Rick thinks that, instead of expanding the registry, the state ought to narrow its focus and concentrate money and resources on the most serious cases that pose the greatest risks to the public.

"Why can't Maryland use the evaluation skills of professionals already in its employ and assign proper designation of recidivism danger to sex offenders?" Rick wrote in an e-mail.

"I completed all punishment and monitoring without incident. I haven't had as much as a parking ticket, but due to a terrible decision on my part I am still paying, and will continue to pay, in ways that go far beyond my original sentencing. I completed the ordered sex offender treatment program and avoid any situation where I can be perceived as putting someone in danger.

"I cannot go to the park with my teenage children. I can't join my local Y. I can't go to my children's school without getting written permission. I am on the registry for life, and now the politicos of our state are piling it on.

"We are not all monsters. Many are in loving relationships. Many have served their sentences, are honestly remorseful, have repented, and are trying to desperately move on with their lives and be productive citizens. All sex offenders are not serial offenders. They are not all predators."

But right now we don't seem to make much distinction and, if the registry expands, to comply with federal law, it seems reasonable to assume that money and resources will go into that effort rather than into performing the psychological triage to identify the real threats and make a real difference in public safety.

Since the Maryland Legislature removed this bill from their web site, we post here an image capture of the bill. Click on thumbnail image to view enlarged image.

Bill Synopsis:

Requiring an applicant for voter registration to specify whether the applicant is a felon; requiring that specified information concerning voting by felons be provided to an applicant for voter registration; requiring an individual who is a felon to vote only by absentee ballot; prohibiting a felon from voting at a polling place; and limiting a provision of law allowing specified registered criminal offenders to enter onto school property for the purpose of voting only to registered offenders who are not felons.

  • Sponsored by:
  • Delegate Rick Impallaria, District 7
  • Delegate Joseph C. Boteler, III, District 8
  • Delegate Robert A. Costa, District 33B
  • Delegate Don H. Dwyer, Jr., District 31
  • Delegate Ron George, District 30
  • Delegate Wade Kach, District 5B
  • Delegate Susan W. Krebs, District 9B
  • Delegate Susan K. McComas, District 35B
  • Delegate Pat McDonough, District 7
  • Delegate Warren E. Miller, District 9A
  • Delegate Steven R. Schuh, District 31
  • Delegate Tanya T. Shewell, District 5A
  • Delegate Richard A. Sossi, District 36
  • Delegate Nancy R. Stocksdale, District 5A