California’s sex offender registry is broken, according to law enforcement officials. As one of only four states that requires lifetime registration for all offenders, California has amassed more than 100,000 names on its list. The registry has become so large, police and prosecutors say, that it often produces too many potential suspects to be useful in solving sex crime cases.
Others, like state Sen. Scott Wiener, believe the system is “draconian” to low-level offenders. The San Francisco Democrat cites gay men who have been “stuck on this registry” for decades because they were caught having sex at clandestine hook-up spots in public parks.
“They are all treated the same as a sexually violent predator,” he said.
So Wiener this legislative session is carrying a long-gestating proposal that could give some registered sex offenders in California a way off the list.
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The measure – crafted and supported by an unusual alliance of law enforcement agencies, victims’ rights groups and civil liberties organizations – would create a three-tiered system. Someone convicted of a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony could petition a court to be removed from the registry after 10 years, and someone convicted of a serious or violent sex offense could petition to be removed after 20 years. High-risk, sexually violent and repeat violent offenders would still be required to register for life.
After receiving bipartisan support in the Senate, the effort came to a halt earlier this month in the Assembly, when it failed to advance from a key fiscal committee in a secret vote. Wiener doesn’t know whether lawmakers balked at the cost, estimated to be $75 million over the first six years of transition to the new system, or at the political minefield of supporting a policy that might be seen as soft on crime.
“It’s definitely an uncomfortable subject for people to talk about and to vote on,” he said. “Once they hear that the police chiefs, the district attorneys and the rape crisis centers are all supporting and sponsoring the measure, that’s usually enough.”
But given the potential challenges of revisiting the issue in 2018 (“Everything’s harder in an election year,” Wiener said), he gutted and amended another of his remaining bills last week to reintroduce the sex offender registry legislation. Senate Bill 384 is back in the Assembly Public Safety Committee today for its first hearing, and must pass both houses of the Legislature before the end of the week to be considered by the governor this year.
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INTERNATIONAL INTERFERENCE: Did the Senate shelve a resolution by one of its members to appease the Chinese government? That’s what Sen. Joel Anderson is alleging. The Alpine Republican introduced Senate Joint Resolution 10 this year to condemn persecution in China of practitioners of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, including reports that the country is harvesting the organs of political prisoners. On Sept. 1, he says, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco sent a letter to the Legislature decrying Falun Gong as an “evil cult” and stating that SJR 10 “may deeply damage the cooperative relations between the State of California and China and seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese people and the vast Chinese community in California.” That same day, the resolution was referred from the Senate floor back to the rules committee, where it has not moved from since. (The office of Senate leader Kevin de León did not respond to a request for comment.) Falun Gong practitioners plan to be at the Capitol every day this week asking the Legislature to take up the resolution. Their first protest begins at 8:30 a.m. on the north lawn.
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