ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP/WBOC)- Relatives of an 11-year-old Salisbury girl who authorities say was killed by a registered sex offender urged lawmakers Monday to pass stronger penalties against sexual predators as the Maryland General Assembly's session entered its last day.
Jennifer Foxwell, the mother of Sarah Haley Foxwell, who was kidnapped and murdered back in December, told reporters that she was appalled lawmakers have waited so long to approve longer prison sentences. She walked into the Maryland State House with Sarah's aunt, Tracey Powell, Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis and Joan Harris, president of Citizens for Jessica's Law, to push for the strongest bill.
"We really need to be advocates for the rest of the children in the state of Maryland and all across the country to make sure that we do protect our children," Foxwell said.
The House has approved a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for people who commit more serious sex offenses or rape against a child, instead of a five-year sentence under current law. The Senate version of the bill makes a mandatory 20-year-sentence.
Lawmakers have until midnight to work out the differences before the Legislature adjourns.
Both chambers already have approved a measure to require lifetime supervision for people who commit the most severe sex crimes, but there will be last-day negotiating on other bills.
"We need to make it happen today," Harris said. "It's an absolute disgrace that it's taken this long for this Maryland General Assembly to get this done for our children."
Lawmakers still haven't fully agreed on legislation that would bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which creates minimum standards for sex offender registration. States have been given until July 2010 to comply or risk losing federal grants.
The need for changes to Maryland's sex offender laws have been underscored this session after Sarah Foxwell's slaying on the Eastern Shore in December. Her body was found Christmas Day after a search that brought out thousands of volunteers. A registered sex offender has been charged with murder in her death.
On other legislation, lawmakers also have differences to work out.
House and Senate lawmakers have a gap to bridge in legislation that would require Maryland utilities to increase the amount of solar energy they buy and raise the amount of money they would pay for not complying.
The Senate still has to finish work on the governor's proposal to require mediation in home foreclosure cases, but changes to a bill already approved by the House are mostly technical. The House already has approved requiring that an application for loan modification must be sent to all homeowners 45 days before a foreclosure action is filed. The measure also would require those filing a foreclosure action to pay a $300 fee to help pay for mediations.
The House and Senate have to resolve proposed changes to guidelines used to set child support payments. It would be the first time the guidelines have been changed in more than 20 years. The House would implement the changes in October 2011, instead of October of this year.
Lawmakers already have approved the state's $13.2 billion operating budget. The fiscal year 2011 budget relies on a mix of cuts, one-time spending transfers from reserve accounts and federal stimulus money to close a $2 billion gap. The budget, which includes large cuts in funding to local governments for road repairs, will have a balance of $195 million, in addition to $633 million in the state's Rainy Day Fund.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has signed into law the main portions of his job creation initiative. It includes a $5,000 tax credit for Maryland employers who hire an unemployed resident that O'Malley included $20 million in the budget to fund. He also has signed legislation to change unemployment insurance laws to enable Maryland to secure about $127 million in federal stimulus money.
The General Assembly also has passed a ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving, which O'Malley has indicated he will sign, and legislation that creates civil penalties for making false Medicaid claims. The state estimates that bill could help recover $20 million in fraudulent claims a year.