Two contenders for the Democratic nomination for attorney general are each accusing the other of voting against laws imposing mandatory minimums for child sex offenders.
The cross-accusations made by Del. Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County, and Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, were part of a debate Monday at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
“You voted against Jessica’s law,” Frosh said to Cardin. “That’s the God’s honest truth.”
Cardin later rebutted Frosh’s claim, saying he had supported the legislation and told the audience that Frosh himself had opposed the sex offender laws—a claim Frosh did not deny.
“I’ve long had reservations on mandatory minimum sentences, and it turns out I am not alone,” said Frosh.
Both sides then went into fact-check mode attempting to provide reporters with information backing their positions.
The truth, however, is slightly more complicated.
Cardin, according to legislative records, has voted in favor of most legislation related to Jessica’s Law. Frosh has voted mostly against. Each have votes that allow their opponent to attempt to score political points with voters.
Jessica’s Law was named after Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 2005 by a man previously convicted of sex offenses against children.
Florida was the first to pass legislation instituting mandatory minimum sentences for convicted child sex offenders in an attempt to prevent repeat offenses. Nearly four dozen states now have similar laws. A similar bill creating a federal law was introduced but never voted on.
In Maryland, the history of Jessica’s Law, and who voted for and against its related incarnations, is somewhat complicated.
In 2006, two bills emerged from a pack of sex offender-related legislation. House Bill 4 set about changing the laws pertaining the the state sex offender registry.
That same year, Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Southern Maryland, proposed House Bill 1401, Jessica’s law, including 25-year minimum sentencing requirements.
O’Donnell, in an interview, said his bill was amended onto HB 4 by current Lt. Gov. and then-Del. Anthony G. Brown, D-Prince George’s. Brown, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was floor leader on the bills.
“They slammed those two bills together,” O’Donnell said, adding that he warned that the move would doom the legislation.
Cardin initially voted with 45 other delegates against Brown’s amendment that combined the bills but voted with the majority of delegates on the final version of the bill. The House later amended a Senate bill to conform with the House bill. Frosh joined the majority in rejecting those amendments and killing the bill.
The House of Delegates sent HB 1401 back to the House Judiciary Committee in a 69-63 vote.
“There was no reason to recommit the bill,” O’Donnell said.
It is this vote that Frosh cites when he makes his claim that Cardin voted against Jessica’s Law.
Cardin was among the legislators whose vote killed the bill for that session.
When asked about the vote Monday night, Cardin said he could not immediately recall why he voted to recommit the legislation to committee.
Legislators returned later in 2006 for a special session to take up the issue with a bill that did not carry the Jessica’s Law moniker. House Bill 2 imposed a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years on anyone over the age of 18 that sexually assaults a child younger than 13 — the key provisions of what is typically called Jessica’s Law.
Legislators came back the following year and passed House Bill 930, which was called “Jessica’s Law.” This time, the legislation prohibited parole for offenders serving mandatory portions of sentences given for sexually assaulting minors.
As with the bill passed in special session, Cardin was part of a unanimous vote in the House in favor of the bill. Frosh was one of four senators who voted against the bill in the Senate. Cardin also voted for a Senate version of the same bill that year.
In 2010, the General Assembly passed House Bill 254, legislation enhancing Jessica’s Law by increasing the mandatory minimum for second-degree rape of a child under the age of 13 from 5 years to 15 years and increasing the maximum penalty to 20 years to life.
Cardin was part of a unanimous vote in favor of the law. Frosh, in contradiction to his stated opposition to mandatory minimum sentences, supported the bill in a committee vote and later in a unanimous vote on the floor of the Senate.