Dog bite bill moving forward -- Gazette.Net


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ANNAPOLIS — In just a few weeks, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) can sink his teeth in a bill designed to help dog bite victims.

But a bill aimed at closing a loophole that lets part-time school employees and coaches escape prosecution for sexual conduct with a minor looks to be headed to a conference committee.

The clock is ticking on lawmakers. On Monday, lawmakers face a “cross over” deadline. Bills from one chamber that miss the deadline face extra procedural steps before passage in the other chamber.

Dog bites

For two years, the General Assembly has been trying to overturn a court ruling that declared pit bulls inherently dangerous and held landlords strictly liable for the bites of their tenants’ dogs.

The House on Wednesday passed a measure that the Senate passed Feb. 28 that increases protection for dog bite victims. It is also “breed neutral,” which means pit bulls are no more dangerous than chihuahuas.

“The end is in sight,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase. “We’ve got a good package that helps everybody. It’s good for pet owners, good for victims of dog bites and good for landlords.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this year we’ve solved the issue,” said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville. “It will be signed by the governor as emergency legislation and hopefully we’ve solved more problems than we’ve created.”

Frosh and Simmons crafted the compromise.

Persons in authority

Sen. Jamie B. Raskin was not nearly as confident about his legislation that would close the loophole that lets part-time school employees escape prosecution when they have sex with a minor.

The House and Senate versions of his bill differ slightly in the definition of who is considered a person of authority.

Maryland law currently criminalizes sexual conduct between people who are considered to be in a position of authority and minors in their care. But the law is limited to full-time school employees including principals, vice principals, teachers and school counselors.

Both bills expand that definition to include part-time teachers and coaches.

The House bill goes further, though, including volunteers and those who work for sports and recreational facilities.

Both the House and Senate bills have crossed over to the other chambers’ judicial committee, but Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park said it looks like a conference committee could be convened to try to reconcile the differing versions.

The legislation was written in response to a case in Montgomery County in which a 47-year-old part-time coach was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old. Because of the way Maryland law is written, prosecutors decided they couldn’t charge the coach.

kalexander@gazette.net