The Desert Sun
February 2, 2006
The old saying “Something is better than nothing” certainly applies to
Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s bill creating special enforcement teams
that would visit sex offenders at their homes. While state Democrats and
Republicans can’t seem to agree on a plan to track more than 17,500
missing sex offenders, Garcia’s bill appears to be the best proposal
lawmakers now have to address this problem.
The Cathedral City Republican’s bill would spend $15 million to establish
Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement teams statewide. She proposes
competitive grants of up to $1.6 million for regional teams. They would
collect DNA samples and update pictures of offenders while making sure
they are living at their registered address and not violating terms of
their release. Call it a parole program on steroids. Such teams already
exist in four counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego.
The bill comes as Democratic lawmakers last year blocked passage of a
state “Jessica’s Law,” which would have required Global Positioning
System monitoring of all sex offenders not in jail or prison,
strengthened sex offender penalties and increased the zones where sex
offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of schools and parks.
Democrats said Jessica’s Law was expensive to implement and so broad that
it invaded privacy. Gov. Schwarzenegger and Assemblyman John Benoit,
R-Palm Desert, now are working to place the plan before voters as a
proposition in the November election.
Tracking system needed
A problem certainly exists in tracking the state’s 100,000 convicted
offenders. Of those, 63,000 offenders must list on the state’s Megan’s
Law Web site either their address or the ZIP code where they reside.
Yet the actual locations of more than 1 in 4 of those who should be on
the Web site were unknown in early 2005, Garcia’s office reports.
Last summer’s case of Joseph Duncan, who was arrested in August for
kidnapping two Idaho children then killing one of them after bludgeoning
their parents, certainly brings home the serious threat of repeat sex
offenders. Duncan was linked to the abduction and death several years
before of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez, whose body was found in Indio.
An effective plan to keep convicted sex offenders from re-offending is
needed, and Garcia’s bill offers a partial solution through tracking. It
is a more direct approach than what is now on the books – the state
follows the offender rather than society waiting for the offender to tell
where he is.
Support for Garcia’s bill exists
Garcia’s bill marks a good way to cut through the political rhetoric and
posturing. Indeed, late last week Republican lawmakers in the Assembly
stalled the Democrats’ alternative to Jessica’s Law. That plan would have
spent $15 million on SAFE teams, increased penalties for some offenses
against children, created treatment programs and required a few high-risk
sex offenders to wear GPS monitors.
Republicans said it was a soft version of Jessica’s Law that wouldn’t go
far enough. Democrats on Tuesday were able to get the bill sent to the
Senate, but it faces an uncertain future there.
If the Legislature can’t pass Jessica’s Law or the Democrats’
alternative, certainly Garcia’s bill shouldn’t languish. Indeed, there is
support for it. Among the bill’s second co-authors is a Democrat.
Meanwhile, the governor included $6 million in this year’s budget to
create three regional SAFE teams. Some Democrats say more money is needed
for SAFE teams, however; indeed, the Democrats’ plan blocked last week
set aside $15 million, which is Garcia’s amount of spending.
Regardless if Jessica’s Law makes the November ballot, something needs to
be done now to start keeping track of offenders. Short of lawmakers
compromising on a bill that includes dollars for SAFE teams, they ought
to pass Garcia’s proposal.
THE ISSUE: Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, proposes
spending $15 million on special teams that would track released sex
WE SUGGEST: Short of a stronger law to keep sex offenders from
recommitting their crimes once released, lawmakers should pass Garcia’s
Read Garcia’s sex offender bill and follow it through the state
Legislature: Read Garcia’s sex offender bill
SEX OFFENDER NUMBERS
*63,000 – Sex offenders in California required to register with law
*33,500 – Offenders in California required to provide their full address
to law enforcement
*30,500 – Offenders listed on the state Megan’s Law site solely by the
ZIP code in which they are residing
*22,000 – Offenders whose addresses are not listed on the state’s public
list but who law enforcement knows addresses of
*17,500 – Offenders whose whereabouts are unknown
SOURCES: Office of the Attorney General; Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s
Copyright © 2006 The Desert Sun