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Bill aimed at predators ignites parents’ blog protest

A blog post on the site of a Montgomery County parents’ group this weekend assailed — in often personal terms — three local state senators for their sponsorship of legislation that would make it a misdemeanor for part-time and volunteer school and recreational coaches to have sex with a 16-year-old under their charge, but only if the perpetrator is at least seven years older than the victim.

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 460, said the measure closes a “giant loophole” in Maryland law that held full-time teachers and coaches 21 years of age and older criminally liable for having sex with a 16-year-old in their charge — but not part-time employees and volunteers. Sixteen is the age of consent in Maryland.

However, Rosanne Hurwitz, of Rockville, who wrote the blog post, noted that current law allows no permissible age disparity between the perpetrator and victim. Thus, she said, SB460 would create a loophole by enabling any teacher, coach or volunteer to have sex with 16-year-old mentees, so long as he or she is not seven years older.

The targets of Hurwitz’s blog-post ire were Raskin and the bill’s cosponsors, Jennie M. Forehand and Nancy King, all Montgomery County Democrats. Forehand, 78, has said she is retiring from the Senate after this General Assembly session.

“Jennie Forehand, Nancy King, and Jamie Raskin — did you really read this before you signed on as sponsors?” Hurwitz stated in the blog posted Saturday on the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County’s website.

“OK, so we can excuse Jennie for her lapse — she is getting old and now we know why she announced her retirement,” Hurwitz added. “Nancy King, a former [Montgomery County] School Board member, has been around a long time and should also consider getting out of public life. But Jamie Raskin? How can Mr. Takoma Park/law professor liberal be a sponsor? He should be ashamed. Jamie — did you talk to your students at American University law school about this? Did you talk to your children? Your wife?”

Raskin fired back Sunday against Hurwitz and the coalition in comments posted on his Facebook page.

“I appreciate your passionate interest in the welfare of children which is shared not only by me but by hundreds of thousands of parents in our county,” Raskin wrote.

“But I confess that I find your style of divisive politics totally baffling,” he added. “On your website, you attack Senator Forehand for her age, say that Senator King should leave office, and then bring my employer, children, and wife into the discussion of this legislation. Isn’t that a little bit outrageous? If we can work to get the votes, we can take the best parts of [anti-sex-abuse] bills and other good ideas, but that requires legislative skill, listening, and compromise, not self-righteous demonization of public servants and their families. Enough is enough.”

Hurwitz said Monday that she has no regrets about the blog post.

“What is relevant is the bill is a mess to begin with and it creates more loopholes,” Hurwitz said, adding that a 22-year-old teacher could have sexual relations with a high-school junior without fear of prosecution. “He [Raskin] is creating more problems than he’s solving.”

Raskin said he, too, would prefer a law that criminalizes sexual relations between teachers or coaches and high-school students under their charge without any reference to age difference. But such a bill has not passed and would not pass the General Assembly due to opposition from lawmakers concerned about criminalizing consensual sexual relations, Raskin said, adding that his imperfect bill might have the best chance of passage.

“I believe in working in the legislative process to accomplish things and not just wave a flag” of surrender, he added.

Raskin called Hurwitz’s blog post “not just bad manners [but] way over the line in public discourse” and worse than the comments hurled from both sides during the divisive legislative debates in recent years over same-sex marriage and gun-control legislation, which he supported.

“I have not seen that kind of vitriol poured down on colleagues in an ad hominem way,” Raskin said.

SB 460 has been cross filed in the House of Delegates as House Bill 781. The chief sponsor is Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat.

Neither Forehand nor King returned telephone messages Monday seeking comment.