Bills offer protection in abuse accusations

March 16, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Del. Donald B. Elliott, a District 4B Republican, yesterday continued his efforts to protect the rights of Marylanders falsely accused of child abuse.

He said four bills he introduced this year are an attempt to refine successful legislation he sponsored last year to give residents accused of child abuse the right to see their state records and request hearings.

The bill Mr. Elliott said he considers one of his most significant this year was met with substantial opposition at yesterday's hearing.

The measure, House Bill 377, would require investigators to videotape or record on audiotape each interview with children involved in abuse cases.

The taping would allow judges and juries to see how investigators question children, he said. He is concerned about a style of therapy in which children are inappropriately encouraged to remember events they may have repressed, he said.

"The point is we want to get to the truth," Mr. Elliott said. "It [tapes] brings out the truth. It's good for the prosecution, and it's good in trying to decide the innocence of another person."

Linda Heisner of Family and Children's Services in the state Department of Human Resources opposed the bill "because we believe that videotaping and/or audiotaping interviews may be highly upsetting to children."

It also would be expensive to tape thousands of interviews, she said.

Maryland State Police also opposed the bill, saying in written testimony that more accurate interviews could be conducted through more stringent training of investigators.

Taylorsville resident David R. Hodge, whose experience five years ago spurred Mr. Elliott to pursue the issue of false reports, said he supported taping interviews.

"This is the only method available to assure compliance with professional and ethical methods of questioning," he said.

Five years ago, Mr. Hodge and his wife, Marsha, were accused of abusing their infant son, Joey. The couple was investigated and not charged. However, a coding error in Department of Human Resources records listed them as child molesters.

The Maryland State Teachers Association also supported Mr. Elliott's bill, saying in written testimony that taping interviews would help address the problem of "coaxing" children to say certain things.

The committee also heard testimony on three other bills sponsored by Mr. Elliott. The bills were:

* House Bill 378, which would give people accused of abusing vulnerable adults the same rights to see their records and request hearings as people accused of child abuse.

A vulnerable adult is defined in state law as a person who lacks the physical and mental capacity to provide for his or her daily needs.

* House Bill 520, which would require departments of social services to remove the name of a person suspected of abuse or neglect from a registry if no entry for that person has been made for seven years.

The Department of Human Resources supports the bill.

* House Bill 524, which would change the time period for deleting an unsubstantiated finding in a child abuse or neglect case to one year from five years.

The department opposes the bill because deleting records would mean "valuable information would be lost," Ms. Heisner said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.