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Predatory Sex Offenders Bill Passed

May 13, 1996
By: Joseph Morton, Reece Rushing and Laura Hearnburg
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Some sexual offenders in Missouri could be spending the rest of their lives in prison under a bill that received final approval from the legislature Monday (May 13).

Judges are allowed to sentence "sexual predators" to an unlimited number of years in prison under the bill, which keeps current minimum sentencing requirements for the offenders.

And even if released, they would be subject to life-time parole.

The bill, which now awaits Gov. Mel Carnahan's signature, defines a sexual predator as someone who has been found guilty of more than one count of committing or attempting to commit a list of sexual offenses that includes rape, sodomy and child molestation.

An individual also can be classified as a sexual predator if there is proof they committed more than one offense, even if only one resulted in a conviction.

Once an individual moves into the sexual predator column, the sky's the limit for sentencing of that person.

And even if sexual predators do manage to get out of prison, the bill requires that the Corrections Department keep them on parole, so they can be monitored, said Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate.

All sexual offenders are required by state law to register with local law enforcement officials every time they move to a new area.

In addition to the tougher penalties, the legislation calls for public release of predatory sex offenders' registration information by the chief local law enforcement officer.

Under the guidelines established in the bill, only about 150 sexual predators call Missouri home, Sims said. But, she added, it is still important to deal with these people.

"This is definitely a small population of people but that small number is capable of a great number of crimes," she said. "Hopefully this bill will help us keep people from repeating these heinous crimes."

House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, sponsored the legislation that established the sex offenders' registration requirement. Gaw said the latest bill marks a massive step forward in dealing with repeat sex offenders.

"This is totally different from what we have under current law," he said.

Although some might question the harshness of the bill's penalties, Gaw said he sees no problem with them.

"This is a public safety issue," he said. "These are not first-time offenders."

In other legislative business Monday:

* A bill setting general guidelines for the Natural Resources Department to regulate hog farms easily passed the Senate. This action followed recent complaints that hog operations lower the value of surrounding property and hurt the environment.

The measure now goes back to the House, which had approved the bill earlier, for review of several Senate changes.

* The House approved a Senate bill that included an amendment that would allow the governor to decide how much the sales tax can be cut. The proposal, which was originally a single page long, left the House after more than four hours of debate with twenty-six new amendments involving various tax breaks -- from taxes on groceries to taxes on medical oxygen,

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, who sponsored the bill in the House, said that he expects the bill will end up in a conference committee where it will be dramatically changed before it goes to the governor.

Meanwhile, the Senate moved a step forward to a tax-cut debate. Its Rules Committee voted to recommend the bill be taken up out of order. The committee's recommendation will require a two-thirds vote by the Senate.