By Jessica Machetta
JEFFERSON CITY - Legislators have been working for several years on restructuring the state's sex offender registry, saying it's unnecessarily penalizing many people who are not a risk to society. One group speaking out against a bill that's been taken up and passed by the House is Missouri Kids First.
"With the sex off registry, our opinion of Rep. Hinson's bill is that it just goes too far," says spokeswoman Emily Van Schenkof. "It goes too far and there are actually a number of troubling elements in it. We really recognize that there are some people on the sex offender registry that don't belong it ... my concern is that ... this bill goes really far in letting a lot of people off that list who really are absolutely a public safety risk."
She adds that the bill relies heavily on risk assessment in determining whether someone can have their name and information taken off the publicly accessed registry. She says risk assessment can be a useful tool in determining whether someone will re-offend, but she says it's not fool-proof.
Rep. Dave Hinson of Washington's bill would exclude from the sex offender registry website the names and information of juveniles, first-time offenders who commit felonious restraint or kidnapping of a nonsexual nature, and those under federal protection. The bill has been sent to the Senate, where it has not been placed on the calendar for debate.
"I have a bit of frustration with this bill, bc there's a way to do this that addresses legitimate public policy concerns but also protects the public safety and safety of our children," she says, "and this bill just doesn't do it so I'm puzzled as to why this bill has moved through the House."
Missouri Kids First and the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence both supported a different measure in the House, Van Schenkof says, which was sponsored by Rep. Don Phillips of Kimberling City.
"Rep. Don Phillip's bill passed out of the Rules Committee," she says, "but the house chose not to take up this bill and took up Rep. Hinson's bill instead. Rep. Phillips spent about three years to come up with a sex off bill that people could live with ... it has the support of MCADSV, it has the support of my group, it was federally compliant; the problem is was that sex offenders didn't like it."
Hinson's bill would require that a public website include only the names and information for sexual offenders who are unclassified or Tier III offenders. The names and information of Offenders Pending Classification, Tier I, and Tier II offenders would not be on the public website. Those offenders would be on a separate list available only to law enforcement agencies.
The measure would exempt from the registry those convicted of second- or third-degree sexual misconduct, first- and second-degree promoting obscenity, furnishing pornographic material to minors, public display of explicit sexual material, coercing acceptance of obscene material, non-sexual child abuse, felonious restraint or kidnapping of a nonsexual nature when the victim was a child and the offender was the parent or guardian, and a sexual offense involving sexual conduct where no force or threat of force was directed toward the victim and the victim was an adult, unless under the custodial authority of the offender or the victim was 18 years of age or younger and the offender was no more than five years older than the victim at the time of the offense.
The bill would also changes the victim's age from 13 to 12 years of age or older for an offender to be eligible after two years to file a petition for removal from the registry. Currently, an offender who was 19 years of age or younger at the time of the offense and the victim was 13 years of age or older at the time of the offense and non-physical force or threat of physical force was used in the commission of the offense, may file a petition after two years for removal from the registry.