One of the most sacred responsibilities at the Clerk of the Circuit Court is the protection of rights for witnesses and victims. Through diligence and our commitment to justice, we ensure that victims and witnesses are made aware of their rights. That commitment also includes assisting with the restitution system to ensure that convicted offenders repay victims for losses resulting from crime.

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan proposed the Justice for Victims Initiative. In introducing the package of bills, he stated, “Making Maryland safer begins with making sure that we have a criminal justice system that holds offenders accountable for their actions and the harm they cause, while also supporting victims and the community in the process of healing.”

The initiative comprises three proposed bills and a housing initiative for victims of crime.

·      Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2017

·      Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act of 2017

·      Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act of 2017

·      Transitional Housing Assistance Program

Let’s look at these bills, starting with the Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2017.

With Senate Bill 308, the governor proposes adding sex trafficking to the statute defining sexual abuse. This emergency legislation defines “sexual molestation or exploitation” and clearly identifies sex trafficking as sexual abuse. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. You can review the text of the bill here and review the status of the bill here.

The Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act of 2017 enables prosecutors to include convictions of previous sexual abuse in court. Often, sexual predators have more than one victim, and any pattern of abuse could be admitted in court, giving prosecutors an additional tool in the prosecution of sexual abuse. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. You can read Senate Bill 316 here; the status of the bill and hearing schedule are available here.

The Governor’s proposal on drunk driving, known as the Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act of 2017, increases penalties for repeat offenders and makes certain drunk and drugged driving charges a felony. Senate Bill 312 has been assigned to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. You can read the bill here and review its status here.

The final proposal by the governor is an initiative known as the Transitional Housing Assistance Program. The governor is committing $5 million in state funding to provide victims of crime housing assistance for up to one year. Victims often become homeless and in need of help. This initiative will be coordinated by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention.

If you feel passionately about these issues, contact your Delegates and Senator and let them know your position on the Justice for Victims of Crime Initiative. You can obtain contact information on the General Assembly’s website.

Sources: governor.maryland.gov, mgaleg.maryland.gov