Friday, January 13, 2006

Politics And Sex Crimes Legislature + Arnie

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is threatening to put a sexual-predator initiative on the November ballot, where it will serve as bait for tough-on-crime voters. If Democrats in the Legislature hope to head it off, they must pass a credible alternative to it soon.

The initiative, similar to proposed legislation sponsored by Sen. George Runner and Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, Republicans from Lancaster, actually has good elements that Democrats have blocked in the past. It would extend parole for the worst sex crimes, now three to five years, to 10 years. It would increase penalties for molesting children; using ``date rape'' drugs; peddling and, in some cases, possessing child porn; and stalking juveniles over the Internet. It would indefinitely commit a sexual predator completing his prison term to a state hospital until he can prove he's no longer a threat. It would make it easier to classify an offender as a violent predator.

But two main provisions are overkill. One would slap an electronic monitoring device on every sexual offender for life. The other would bar a registered sex offender from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

After the murder of a girl by a sex felon, Florida quickly became the first state to mandate lifetime satellite monitoring for violent sex convicts. Schwarzenegger seized on ``Jessica's Law'' and immediately demanded it be applied to all of California's registered sex offenders.

There's definitely a role for a GPS device, which continuously records the wearer's location. It can provide evidence to clear a suspect as well as to indict him. It should be imposed on sex offenders on parole and on the 25,000 sex felons who have failed to register their address yearly under Megan's Law. It should be extended to lifetime for repeat or violent criminals. But it's excessive and expensive (a cost of tens of millions of dollars) to impose GPS on those sex offenders whose age, particular crimes or rehabilitation make them a low risk to re-offend. The state should set GPS priorities.

Current law prohibits some sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of a school. The bill would increase the distance to nearly a half-mile (2,000 feet) of any school or public park and impose it on all sex offenders. While the difference may not seem like much, it could have the effect of blocking off most urban areas, forcing large numbers of sexual offenders into the Central Valley or the suburbs. The case for such a change needs to be justified and the impact thoroughly studied.

This week, a Senate committee killed the Runners' bill. In February, unless there's a compromise, they'll submit signatures qualifying their initiative for the ballot.

AB 50, sponsored by Assembly member Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, with some elements of the Runners' bill, is moving through the Legislature. A Senate version is off to a slow start. But there's still time for the governor to strike a deal by separating the flaws from Jessica's Law.


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