By Glynis Kazanjian
Delegates advanced legislation Tuesday that would allow domestic abuse and human trafficking victims to keep private real estate property records that are normally public information if they are enrolled in the address confidentiality program.
The legislation would also permit a victim in the address confidentiality program to use a substitute address for all purposes. The address would be assigned by the Office of the Secretary of State, the government agency that oversees the program.
House Bill 633 passed the House chamber by voice vote Tuesday.
Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s County, was the original sponsor of the bill at the request of the Secretary of State, but a bipartisan group of 22 lawmakers joined on as co-sponsors.
Stiffer punishment rejected
Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles County, introduced an amendment calling for a mandatory, maximum 90-day prison term for any person who illegally obtains or discloses an ACP victim’s address, but the amendment failed 66 to 71.
Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, which handled the bill, opposed the amendment.
“The purpose of the bill is to protect women now,” Barve said on the House floor.
Healey said she was not necessarily opposed to the concept of the amendment, but introducing it so late in the process and then passing it would have sent the bill to the Judiciary Committee.
“We don’t want to jeopardize the bill,” Healey said, crediting the long and hard work of a task force which worked on the legislation
Del. Susan McComas, R-Harford County, said the bill is incomplete without a stiffer punishment.
Currently the legislation calls for a penalty of a misdemeanor conviction and a fine not exceeding $2,500.
Estimates differ on how much it would cost taxpayers.
The Administrative Office of the Courts, which would administer the program, estimates it would cost approximately $852,500 in fiscal 2019 “for Judicial Information Systems to analyze and develop procedures to meet the bill’s requirements and implement necessary computer programming changes.”
Existing staff would receive and manage any documentation associated with ACP victims.
The Department of Legislative Services disagreed with the estimated implementation and operating costs.
“These procedures do not require any significant changes to existing programs or workflows for any agencies involved in the process. Additionally, as the Secretary of State anticipates fewer than 10 requests to shield real property records per year, the total impact on the Judiciary is expected to be minimal.”
A similar program known as the The Maryland Safe at Home ACP is already in place for victims who live in rental properties. The Office of the Secretary of State estimates as of January, 902 individuals participate in the program.
“The service limits an abuser’s ability to access public information that identifies the new location of a program participant. In most cases, using the substitute address allows State and local agencies to respond to requests for public information without disclosing the participant’s actual address,” the bill’s fiscal note states.
The House is expected to vote on the bill a third and final time on Thursday, Healey said, and send it to the Senate, which has held a hearing on its own version.
“The sad reality is that becoming a victim of a crime often shatters a person’s sense of security,” said Gov. Larry Hogan, R, who has indicated his support of the measure. “It can feel as if his or her entire world has been turned upside down, and – much too often – it can leave wounds that are unseen and which sometimes never truly or fully heal.”