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A Maryland House of Delegates bill that would permit prosecutors to introduce evidence of past assaults in some trials for sex offenses was approved by a Senate committee Thursday, clearing the way for it to be enacted.

Because the panel made no changes to the House bill, all it will take is passage by the full Senate in its current form to send it to Gov. Larry Hogan.

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Proponents say they want the bill so Maryland can get serial rapists and other repeat sex offenders off the street. The Republican governor has called for such legislation and had sponsored a competing version.

Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, called the committee action “good news for the women of Maryland, good news for the children of Maryland.”

A bill that would allow judges to admit evidence of similar sexual offenses in trials of accused rapists is poised to pass the Maryland Senate but faces its biggest hurdle in the House of Delegates.

The legislation would allow judges to admit evidence of past conduct of sexual assault defendants who attempt to claim their adult victims had consented to sex. The bill slso allows past behavior to be used as evidence when a defendant claims a child is fabricating a sexual assault incident.

Similar legislation had failed for many years in the House Judiciary Committee.

This year the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee sent over its version of the bill, but the House panel approved an alternate bill.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who chairs the Senate panel, said he thought both committees did a good job. The Baltimore County Democrat said his members decided to accept the House version because they didn’t want to go into a conference committee to reconcile the two versions.

“We made the decision we did not want this to be endangered by the deadline” of April 9, he said.

The House sponsor, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, said she was “ecstatic.” The Howard County Democrat said she had heard from prosecutors that they have had to drop many sexual assault cases because they could not introduce such evidence.

“This would be a sea change,” she said. “They couldn’t get convictions in many cases, particularly when it comes to children.”

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