Md. governor lays out legislative agenda to protect crime victims

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — It’s about time for the state to change the law that allows the parent of a child conceived through rape to maintain parental rights, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday. 

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In an announcement outlining his legislative agenda surrounding victims’ rights, Hogan said he’d join efforts by Maryland Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch to enact the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act.

“No rapist should be allowed to maintain their right as a parent. And no victim should be forced to interact with their attacker,” he said.

Hogan, a Republican, called the bill a “bipartisan, commonsense” measure. “This should be the first piece of legislation acted on this session. And I look forward to signing this bill into law the moment that it arrives on my desk.”

Victims’ rights advocates have been fighting for nine years to change the Maryland state law that allows rapists to maintain parental rights. In a statement released Friday, Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Lisae Jordan stated the support from lawmakers is “essential,” but added, “It’s not over until it’s over,” and called on supporters to keep the pressure for passage on lawmakers.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will be holding a hearing on the senate version of the bill on Jan. 11.

At Friday’s news conference, Hogan signed an executive order that will require state agencies to “prominently display” hotline numbers to resources aimed at helping victims of human trafficking. Hogan explained the numbers give victims access to the National Human Trafficking hotline and the “Be Free” text line that allows survivors to send text messages that can link them to help and local services.

Hogan also introduced the Felony Human Trafficking Act, which classifies felony human trafficking as a violent crime. The governor said a state task force identified 396 survivors of trafficking, 124 who were trafficked as children.

Another proposal from the Hogan administration: the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act. The bill would allow courts to admit evidence of a defendant’s prior record during prosecution. Hogan referred to the case of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell: the Salisbury, Maryland, girl was abducted and murdered in 2009. The man who eventually pleaded guilty in the case, Thomas Leggs, was a registered sex offender.

Included in Hogan’s legislative agenda is also a measure designed to protect victims of domestic violence. Under the current practice, home sales in Maryland are public record. For survivors of domestic violence, the purchase of a home can reveal their new location to abusers who may be tracking them. Under the proposal Hogan is supporting, that information would no longer be public record. Instead, the legislation crafts a mechanism that would “shield” the deed from public access.

Another bill would establish a new victims’ services unit that would centralize data collection on restitution claims in Maryland. “This new unit will act as a one-stop shop for victim notification and for the dissemination of information regarding restitution,” Hogan said.

Maryland’s legislative session starts this coming Wednesday.

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