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Hecht's Bills Close Loopholes in State Laws
David 'Kip' Koontz

March 7, 2002

Delegate Sue Hecht (D., 3rd) has introduced legislation, referred to as "Christopher Laws." These laws are designed to protect Maryland's children from sexual predators.

They were written in response to the death of Christopher Ausherman a 9-year-old Frederick boy who was killed by Elmer Spencer, Jr. after an extremely flawed system allowed him (Spencer) out on the streets. The flaws, unfortunately, were not exposed until after the death of the boy.

While Ms. Hecht introduced legislation last year to correct these flaws, the proposals were sent to a state task force charged with reviewing the matter and making recommendations that are at the core of Ms. Hecht's legislation.

State Senator Tim Ferguson has introduced his own set of bills he has dubbed "Christopher's Laws" as well. His focal point is somewhat different than Ms. Hecht's, focusing more on the sentencing end of the matter, instead of reviewing the process as a whole as do Ms. Hecht's.

Hopefully, the end result will be a set of bills that accomplishes the most to protect our children from the likes of Elmer Spencer.

Ms. Hecht's bills, which are the most well-rounded of those introduced, address numerous issues.

HB 876 will identify child sexual abuse as a crime of violence. As a result, offenders of this felony would be given half of the "good conduct" credits they currently receive. Currently, child sexual abusers receive "good conduct" credits to the rate of 10 per month, beginning at the start of incarceration. This will cut that to 5.

Further, this bill requires that child sexual abusers serve at least half of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Also they cannot receive "street credit" from The Maryland Parole Commission if they violate parole and are sent back to jail.

HB 1147 applies to offenders who meet the definition of a sexually violent predator. This new law will allow the court to impose a sentence of life without parole, even if the convicted predator isn't a repeat offender.

HB 854 will strip repeat violent offenders of the ability to earn special project and work task credits once they are re-incarcerated for violating mandatory sentencing.

HB 1284 will force an offender who is released from prison and who must register as a sex offender, to undergo a psychological evaluation. The evaluation will become a condition of probation along with the condition that they undergo any necessary treatment. Failure to comply will result in re-incarceration. This bill also reduces from 7 days to 48 hours the length of time a sex offender has to register in their community.

If these had been in place, Spencer just might have been tracked and been able to be stopped before he killed the Ausherman boy. Actually, he should never have been released to begin with. Thankfully, Ms. Hecht's legislation will close the loopholes that allowed this tragedy to occur by preventing repeat violent offenders from being able to easily leave the criminal justice system, as happened in Spencer's case.

We have 74 registered sexual predators registered in Frederick County at this time. Obtaining the list of these offenders isn't as easy as one might think as one can contact several offices before finding out that one must contact the Sheriff's Office and request a copy be sent. In an ideal world, once a predator has moved into you neighborhood, you will be notified.

Eventually, Maryland will institute a uniform web site which one can access to find out if a sexual offender has moved into your neighborhood. Frederick County is saving money by not creating it's own site, choosing to wait until the state's is up and running.

One thing should be that no matter what, citizens should be able to find out easily and without impediment who (and for what kind of crime they were convicted) lives near them if it puts their safety in potential jeopardy.

Four years ago, Alex Mooney and Joe Bartlett ran on what was dubiously called a "pro-family," "pro-life" type platform. That same year, they were instrumental in organizing a now infamous "Hecht No!" rally to bash Delegate Hecht for being out of step with their philosophy.

In turn, they imply Ms. Hecht is somehow "anti-family" and "anti-life". One can only say the "Christopher Law" bills Ms. Hecht introduced are extremely pro-family and pro-life as they are geared to protecting people from violence.

Will the Frederick frat boys be able to overcome their petty partisan politics to support this important legislation or will the lives of children be reduced to a cry of "Hecht No!" on the floor of our State House chambers?

One can only look at the type of legislation these two introduce to grasp how out of their league the frat boys are.

What's more important? Protecting our children as Ms. Hecht wants to do? Or, are deer whistles more important? After all Mr. Bartlett championed that cause.

Maybe protecting the individual rights of those who break the law is most important. At last report the police still consider running a red light a crime. So do the countless people who are injured or killed by the people who run red lights.

Maybe next session the frat boys can introduce legislation requiring light runners to put some kind of whistle on their car to warn safe drivers they are coming.

Do we really want them to have a next session? Shudder the thought.


 

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