By Bryan Simonaire
State Senator, District 31
There is a daily and predictable news cycle coming from Washington D.C. on the problems in politics: It’s the Democrat-controlled House of Representative’s fault. No, it’s the Republican-controlled Senate’s fault. No, no, it’s the White House’s fault.
While plenty of news coming out of Washington, D.C., is negative and divisive, I want to share some positive news coming out of Annapolis. Despite not being immune from political fights, grandstanding and outrageous enactment of laws, Annapolis has many good things happening.
For example, a few years ago, you may recall I sponsored legislation to create a pilot program called Courthouse Dog and Child Witness Program. I worked with our court administrators, family and children advocates, animal enthusiasts and legal representatives in helping our children.
As you can imagine, there are many challenging court cases where young children are required to testify in emotionally charged situations involving domestic abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing criminal acts, contested divorce proceedings and more.
Our county, along with Hartford County, was designated to participate in the pilot program. The first phase was to establish court protocols and procedures to ensure fairness, logistics and assistance for children needing help testifying in our courts.
In February 2018, the Circuit Court had a swearing-in of 13 dog handlers and their dogs that participate in this program. We were honored to have Maryland’s chief judge, Mary Ellen Barbera, at the ceremony.
The program is now operational in both jurisdictions, but we are proposing to extend the pilot program two more years since it just became operational.
In a recent briefing on the program, the Anne Arundel court administrator gave a glowing report of its progress in our county. He testified that the program has been used numerous times with children. He also highlighted one case where a child participated in the court dog service. The child was dealing with serious emotional issues and bonding with the dog made it much easier to solicit the information and truth from the child.
In fact, the administrative judge mentioned that dogs have come to the courthouse once a month, even if there isn’t a child witness case. She mentioned this keeps the dogs familiar with the court building and has a positive impact on the workers and visitors in the building. Overall, she said the program has been positive and successful.
I am extremely pleased with the program and hope to pass the extension legislation this year. Thereafter, we will attempt to take the program statewide.
Of course, this could not have been possible without all the wonderful support from those in the Circuit Court, States Attorney’s Office, the handlers and trainers of the dogs, my staff, advocacy groups and yes, the dogs, too!
A big thank you to all of them.
I believe this is what people are looking from their representatives: teamwork, bipartisan cooperation, dedication and a willingness to work with all stakeholders for the betterment of our Maryland.
If I can be of any assistance, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 410-841-3658.