Annapolis stalking bill set for public hearing

January 04, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Time after time, Barbara Taylor has picked up the paper or turned on the TV to see a report about a woman being killed by an ex-husband or boyfriend. Time after time, she has thought there must be a way to fight back.

The Annapolis attorney is among a group of women's advocates supporting a proposed law to better protect the victims of stalking.

A public hearing on the measure, introduced by Alderman Carl O. Snowden, is scheduled for 6 p.m. today before the regular City Council meeting. Ms. Taylor and several other women lawyers plan to testify at City Hall in support of the legislation. So far no one has voiced any opposition.

"The issue of stalking has been in the news a lot in the last few months," said Ms. Taylor, president of the Women's Law Center in Annapolis. "We think this is a part of domestic violence, and a very serious issue."

Mr. Snowden, a Democrat who represents s Annapolis' 5th Ward, drafted the bill to stiffen penalties against repeated harassment or stalking after attending a workshop last month on sexual harassment.

In April, he led Maryland's capital to become the first jurisdiction in the state to outlaw sexual harassment.

The stalking bill, patterned after a Prince George's County law that went into effect in mid-December, would double the maximum fines and lengthen jail sentences for those convicted of threatening behavior.

Circuit Court judges could assess fines of up to $1,000 and sentences of six months in jail under the new law, up from the maximum state fine of $500 and 30 days in jail. Victims could also swear out a complaint in District Court.

"If it prevented just one person from being seriously injured, it would be well worth it," Mr. Snowden said.

Women's advocates say victims of stalking often don't receive police or court protection until it's too late.

Women who have sought help at the YWCA Woman's Center, a domestic violence program in Annapolis, sometimes have been relentlessly pursued by jealous husbands or former boyfriends. Some have been forced to move across the country to escape, said director Michaele Cohen.

The new law would allow police to arrest a suspect who has made a series of threats. But police must still witness the harassing behavior; have clear evidence, such as written threats or phone messages; or determine that the suspect has violated a court order.

"It serves to provide an extra tool for the Police Department to assist them in preventing tragedies from occurring," Mr. Snowden said. "It will permit potential victims of abuse to have some recourse other than being physically injured before the police can intervene."

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