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Sex offender legislation ready for governor's signature

May 11, 2006
By: Meghan Maskery
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Legislation that would lock away those convicted of raping a child for 30 years as well as allow certain offenders to get their names off the list of registered sex offenders is in line to be signed by the governor.

The House and the Senate passed the sex offender legislation Thursday, just one day before the end of the legislative session. Legislators from both parties had filed dozens of bills this session to change state law regarding sex offenders.

"This bill is a major step forward in modernizing and strengthening Missouri's sex offender laws, but the message remains - the primary responsibility remains in the hands of moms and dads and caretakers," said Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit. Bartle pointed to the fact that the majority of sex offenders know their victims.

The toughest provision passed Thursday would keep those convicted of raping a child under the age of 12 behind bars for 30 years.

Bartle had wrangled with members of the House and the state's prosecuting attorneys over his original plan to require that all sex with a child under 12 be considered forcible rape.

Prosecuting attorneys warned that the provision would actually result in more sex offenders on the streets because the requirement would take away their ability to offer the offender the chance to plea to the lesser offense of statutory rape.

They said this would make it more difficult to gain the cooperation of family members and to get a jury to convict in cases lacking in physical evidence.

Legislators agreed on a compromise provision that consent cannot be a defense for any sex offense involving a child under 12.

Although the bill adds a few crimes to the list of those who must register on the state's sex offender registry, it also allows other offenders to get their names taken off the list.

Parents convicted of felonious restraint and kidnapping of their own children, as well as people convicted of nonsexual child abuse would be removed immediately from the sex offender registry.

Certain offenders convicted of promoting prostitution, public display of sexual materials, and sex with a minor over the age of 14 could ask a judge to remove their names from the registry after ten years.

People who were 19 or younger when they were convicted of having sex with a person age 13 or over will be able to ask a judge to remove their names after two years as long as the crime didn't involve force.

According to Bartle, these changes would affect about 1000 of the more than 12,000 offenders currently listed on Missouri's registry.

"The sex offender registry has people on it who have no business being on it," Bartle said. He noted that Missourians who use the list to protect their children do not want to see people convicted of nonsexual offenses on the list.

The bill adds the crimes of genital mutilation of a child, sexual endangering of a child and sexual contact with a nursing home resident to the list of those who must register.

Earlier in the year, the Missouri Supreme Court heard a lawsuit filed by registered offenders convicted of statutory rape and child abuse who questioned the constitutionality of the list. The court has not yet issued an opinion.

Gov. Matt Blunt had asked for changes to the state's sex offender laws to be a priority this session. Michael Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, the Senate President Pro Tem, opened the legislative session with a call to "lock the door and throw away the key" on sexual predators.

The sex offender legislation includes the following provisions.

- Establishes a toll-free number to be operated by the Highway Patrol to give and receive information about sex offenders

- Adds to the information provided to the public on the sex offender registry. Residence, work and school addresses, release or probation dates, birth dates, physical descriptions, photographs, compliance statuses and aliases must be included on the list.

- Requires anyone who delivers a baby or performs an abortion on someone under 18-years-old to report any known cases of statutory rape or sexual abuse.

- Keeps certain registered sex offenders, including parents, off school property unless permission is granted by school administrators.

- Increases penalties for child molestation, sexual trafficking, rape and sodomy of a child under the age of 12 and adds penalties for aiding a sex offender, and promoting travel for prostitution.

- Persons convicted of rape and statutory rape for a second time would get life in prison without probation or parole.