By Glynis Kazanjian
After failed attempts over more than a decade, legislation allowing prior sexual predatory behavior to be used in criminal prosecutions of alleged sex offenders passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday and was sent to Gov. Larry Hogan.
Hogan sponsored similar legislation this year and has signaled his support for the bill.
As the tally on the legislation, HB301, was taken in the Senate, Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, who had sponsored the bill several times, said, “This bill’s a game-changer …. the chairman did a fantastic job,” praising Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County.
Zirkin returned the compliment, saying Brochin has “been on this issue from the beginning. I just wanted to give him the kudos he deserves.” Senate President Mike Miller chimed in” “This is big bill” and will prosecute sex crimes.
“It’s taken a tremendous amount of work to get this legislation this far in the process,” said Lisa Smith, policy director for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “Input from leadership and members of both committees in the House and the Senate was extremely helpful, in addition to all the support from the governor’s office, prosecutors, advocates and survivors.”
Under current law, prosecutors are prohibited from introducing acts of prior sexually deviant behavior as evidence in court if a defendant claims the accuser has fabricated the attack or the act was consensual — unless the victim is the same person as in the previous acts.
Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Debbie Feinstein, and lawmakers who sponsored the legislation, Brochin with SB270 and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, played key roles in advancing the legislation.
“I worked with senior legislators on the House side to help craft palatable language for legislators that would still make a tangible difference in our ability to bring sexual offenders to justice,” said Feinstein, Special Victims Division chief for Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
Many pushing for the legislation feared it would be killed in the House Judiciary Committee, as had happened in years past. Both the Senate and House held hearings on the bills in early February and in late January, but then the bills seemed stalled in committee.
On March 2, with no vote scheduled, Brochin tried to push the bill along and wrote on Facebook:
“Add the Maryland Legislative Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus to those supporting the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act of 2018 …. Yet we somehow can’t seem to get leadership to allow the bill to go for a vote…”
Advocates implored constituents to call the committee chairs to take action on the legislation. Soon after, Zirkin scheduled a vote, but there was still no activity in the House.
As reported here earlier, Vallario and Judiciary Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, were of mixed minds on the legislation, but getting pressured to schedule a vote from advocates and Republican leaders, who threatened to petition the bill to the floor — a tactic rarely used.
Finally on March 15, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the legislation with amendments. The Senate version had different language, but Atterbeary said she was hopeful the House bill would pass the full House without any complications — which it did four days later.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee ultimately voted last Thursday to accept the House amendments and pass HB301 as is.
A long time coming
“I’m extremely happy to hear the bill may finally pass,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger on Monday. “This version has been introduced for about 10 years. I remember back in the 90s sitting next to professor Lynn Mclain from [the University of Baltimore], testifying, trying to get a similar bill through. We’ve been trying this for a very long and it’s just terrific that we’ve had success this year.”
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks was pleased as well.
“I believe this legislation would provide a critical tool for prosecutors as we seek to protect our citizens, especially our children, from sexual predators because it would allow us to show a jury a pattern of behavior that they could consider for each defendant,” Alsobrooks said. “I believe that there are appropriate safeguards within the legislation to ensure that the process of potentially being allowed to introduce this evidence at trial is fair for all parties involved.”
Mosby’s policy director, Smith, said in the last week she’s spoken to prosecutors and detectives who said if the bill passess they believe it can help them with current cases. The bill’s effective date is July 1.
“This is a real tool that has been needed for so long and it will start helping folks immediately,” Smith said.