By SEAN WHOOLEY
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Domestic violence, stalking and human-trafficking survivors would be given an opportunity to shield property records from abusers under three identical bills in the Maryland Legislature this session.
Maryland’s Safe At Home Address Confidentiality Program provides a substitute address, cloaking a survivor’s location, and includes a free mail-forwarding service.
Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, the sponsor of one version of the bill, said the purpose of the legislation is to turn what is already practice into concrete law.
“The bottom line is, what this bill does is it tries to protect the identity of victims of domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking so that they can buy a home and their identity will not be available to the people that might want to do them harm,” Healey told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service on Tuesday.
House bill 255 and House bill 633, presented together by Healey and Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith to the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee on Tuesday, would establish procedures for participants in the Address Confidentiality Program or the Human Trafficking Address Confidentiality Program to use an address assigned by the Office of the Secretary of State as a substitute.
The former is a request of Gov. Larry Hogan and Wobensmith, the latter is spearheaded by Healey; they are identical.
Healey’s bill is cross-filed with Senate bill 578, and she said all three pieces of legislation are identical in an effort to make sure “everybody knows that everybody supports this bill.”
“Just because you are a victim of a violent crime…you don’t have to give up the dream of owning a home,” Healey said.
Anne Hoyer, director of the state’s address confidentiality program, called Safe At Home, told a story of a woman who called in to the organization after hearing of the legislation. The woman also submitted written testimony, detailing her experiences.
In the 1990s, the then-21-year-old woman was raped in her then-home. Her attacker was convicted and given back-to-back life sentences without parole. The woman opened her own business years later and launched a website including the street address, under the impression she would be notified if her attacker was released.
One day, decades after being attacked, she was made aware of a parole hearing after her attacker contested his sentencing. Weeks before the hearing, she received a packet in the mail including details of the rape, sent by her attacker, and her “worst nightmare had materialized.” Her attacker had found her.
The woman said in her testimony she was brought to tears by the legislation because of her belief in how it could help people in similar situations.
“This bill, a minor detail for many, would be life-saving for me,” the woman wrote.
Another woman, who testified under the name Jane Doe, urged for a favorable report by explaining the bill needed to be passed for a woman like her, who was abused, followed and had a protective order but, because her abuser knew her address, never felt safe.
Doe left her home state with her children, away from her closest family and friends to join Maryland’s Safe At Home Program.
“(For a woman like me, who) came here to rest upon the bosom of the state of Maryland for safety and (to avoid) further harm,” Doe said. “I ask you respectively, unanimously, please pass this bill, for a woman like me.”
Delegate Marvin Holmes, D-Prince George’s, said Doe’s story took the wind out of his sails and he was pleased she found sanctuary in Maryland, while other delegates also commended her bravery.
Representatives from the Maryland Bankers Association, including President and CEO Kathleen Murphy, urged for a favorable report with amendments. The association believes it is essential that the shielding process is carefully done so it doesn’t interrupt the “free flow of credit and other financial services in Maryland,” according to written testimony.
Upon the conclusion of the bankers’ testimony, Committee Chairman Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said he wanted to work out the technical issues because he has a strong sense the committee wants to move forward with the bill.