Bipartisan effort in Senate to change sex offender laws
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Bipartisan effort in Senate to change sex offender laws

Date: February 21, 2007
By: Matt Tilden
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SJR 9

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters might be called upon to decide whether the state's sex offender registry should be updated to include those who committed their crimes before January 1, 1995. 

A joint resolution in the Missouri Senate calls for voters to decide in 2008 whether to amend the state constitution and make an exception to laws prohibiting retroactive prosecution.  If voters approve of the measure, any sex offender who committed  their crime before 1995 may be required to register with law enforcement in the state.

The effort in the Senate is led by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.  The resolution was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday night, and Coleman expects it to come up in the Senate in the near future. 

The resolution combines seperate but similar resolutions proposed by Crowell and Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, earlier this session.

Coleman said that she has collaborated with U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway and has found that people guilty of child pornography and other sex-related crimes always stand a greater chance of committing another sex-related crime.  She said it is imperative to know where sex offenders are at all times.

"I want this resolution to put in place the ability to go back and make the registry retroactive forever," Coleman said. 

John Coffman, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said that the ACLU-EM believes that the state should not have the right to apply any law retroactively, including the regulation of sex offenders.

"Based on the concept of fairness, if there is some legal restriction, you should have notice beforehand," Coffman said. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Doe in 2003 that sex offender registries do not violate the Constitution, because they are regulatory, rather than a punishment.

In July, President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which included the creation of national registries using retroactive laws to track sex offenders.