After an emotional debate, state lawmakers on Saturday gave final legislative approval to a controversial bill that would end the lifetime listing of many convicted sex offenders on a public registry in California.
The bill, which was shelved then revived, was sent to the governor on the last day of the legislative session with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) calling it one of the most difficult votes she has cast.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but sometimes we have to make hard votes,” Gonzalez Fletcher told her colleagues, adding that being a mom made it difficult to change a system aimed at tracking rapists and child molesters.
The measure by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would allow, starting in 2021, for the names of those who committed lower-level, nonviolent sex crimes or who are judged to be low risks to re-offend to be removed from the registry after 10 or 20 years, depending on the crime. The offender must petition the local district attorney for a review.
Wiener called his bill “a long overdue reform of California’s broken sex offender registry.”
Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill.
“SB 384 proposes thoughtful and balanced reforms that allow prosecutors and law enforcement to focus their resources on tracking sex offenders who pose a real risk to public safety, rather than burying officers in paperwork that has little public benefit,” said Ali Bay, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey sought the change because the current registry has grown to a difficult-to-manage 105,000 people, which reduces its value to law enforcement trying to solve sex crimes by checking those on the list.
Because the registry is public, it also punishes people who have not committed new crimes for decades, including some who engaged in consensual sex, bill supporters argued.
“The only other states that still use this Draconian, outdated, ineffective law are Alabama, South Carolina and Florida,” Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) said during the floor debate.
The Assembly vote Friday was 42-22, with most Republicans, including Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore, voting against the bill.
Melendez objected to some of the crimes that would put offenders on a second tier, eligible for removal from the list after 20 years, which include rape by deception and lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14.
“We put so many children at risk if we do this,” Melendez told her colleagues.
The proposal also went to the Senate after midnight on Saturday for approval of amendments. It took a circuitous route to the governor’s desk. After a legislative analysis estimated it would cost $75 million over six years to revamp the database, an Assembly panel shelved a previous version of the bill for the year.
Wiener revived the proposal by taking a bill that would have studied allowing bars to stay open later, gutting that language and inserting the provision on the sex offender registry.