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March 21, 2005

General Assembly Journal 2005 - Part 10

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

March 18, 2005

Bill hearings make me so nervous I'm almost nauseous. That's right: the process of taking one of my bills to a legislative committee is so traumatic that it actually makes me ill!

The closest I've come to this level of emotion is just before taking the stage in a community theater production. The difference is that in theater, no one really knows when you screw up.

In Annapolis, the room is filled with people who know when you blow it!

Three of these bills were heard in the last two weeks, so it was a stressful and nerve-wracking time.

Each one of these bills is a miniature measure of your skills as a legislator. Can you find that idea, develop the appropriate legal language, go out and find supporters, and convince fellow legislators to support the bill?

Remember that the majority of bills that get introduced don't actually become law. The majority of bills get killed, either in a House or Senate committee.

The worst aspect of this trauma is when fellow legislators want to impress their committee with how much they know, so they pepper you with meaningless questions.

My "Move Over" bill was heard in the Environmental Matters Committee. My Kinship Care and DeFacto Custody bills were heard in the Judiciary Committee.

On the "Move Over" bill, there are some committee members who think the bill will be difficult to enforce. They might be right, but the actual enforcement of the law was never as important as the public information component.

The Kinship and DeFacto bill was heard by a committee that is composed of a number of lawyers, some of whom represent these kinds of cases.

In both situations, there were plenty of questions. I also anticipate strong objections, and will be pleasantly surprised if the bills get out of the committees.

* * * * * * * * * *

On the Kinship and DeFacto bills, we were the first bill scheduled. The chairman exercised his prerogative and moved us to second, since a judge was present to speak on another bill.

Another delegate showed up and was told by the committee staff that her bill would be third, following mine. She was visibly upset, and I could tell, even from across the room, that she was reading the riot act to the committee secretary.

I saw the secretary shrug her shoulders, look over at me, then nod. That meant that my bill had just gone from second to third, probably because I'm a minority freshman.

* * * * * * * * * *

Shameka Fludd was a 23-year-old day care teacher. By all accounts, Ms. Fludd was a loving, caring teacher. She was three and a half months pregnant but had not yet married the father of her child. His name is Tjane Marshall.

Tjane Marshall was not as enthusiastic about the baby as Ms. Fludd was. He entered her apartment, walked into her bedroom, and shot her four times. Ms. Fludd had been lying on her bed, reading a Lamaze magazine.

Court records indicate that later that evening, Marshall returned to a party in the District of Columbia. He described the killing to his roommate, boasting of his genius in setting up and carrying out a perfect plan.

He even bragged about being able to avoid getting "little splashes" on him.

Tjane Marshall was convicted of the first-degree murder of Shameka Fludd. In January of 2005, Marshall received a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

The judge also gave Marshall an additional 20-year sentence, to be served consecutively with the life sentence, for using a handgun during the commission of a crime of violence. He received NO punishment for the cold-blooded murder of his three-and-a- half-month-old "child" Ms. Fludd was carrying!

Delegate Bill Frank (R., Baltimore County), a colleague on the Health and Government Operations Committee, has sponsored the Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy Act for the second consecutive year.

The act would make fetal homicide a prosecutable crime for the full nine-month term of pregnancy. In the Fludd case, Marshall would have been guilty of two capital crimes, the murder of both Shameka and her baby.

Thirty other states have adopted similar laws, and a statute exists in federal law on the same subject. There have been a number of constitution challenges, but these laws have held up in every case.

Delegate Frank obtained a state attorney general's opinion attesting to the constitutionality of the proposed law. Anticipating the objections of pro-life organizations, he realized it would be important to establish a legal basis for his recommended language.

Sure enough, the pro-choice advocates attacked his bill. They claim that his bill would bestow "personhood" on a fetus from conception through birth. NOW, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL all expressed major concerns with the bill and urged the committee to reject Delegate Frank's bill.

They suggest there are other ways to achieve fetal rights protections without taking this step. They don't actually offer any specific legislative initiatives, though.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle weighed in on the argument in a big way. He submitted an eloquent letter expressing his frustration as a prosecutor that he does not have the ability to bring murder charges against the attacker in a case of fetal homicide.

Scott's words haunt the reader: "It is devastating to a woman who survives an assault, but loses her baby, to learn that her attacker will not be charged with homicide. I never look forward to informing a woman, whose child in utero has been taken from her in a violent attack, that we can only prosecute for assault."

Maybe it's the vision of that hospital visit to the surviving Mom. Maybe it's just the horror of the whole matter. Whatever it is, Scott's words permeate to my core.

We'll vote on this bill in committee sometime in the next week or two. It will take 13 votes to pass the bill out of committee, and right now, I don't think it'll make it.

It ought to, though!

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