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State Sen. Sharon Runner, longtime Republican lawmaker, dies at 62

 (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

State Sen. Sharon Runner, a longtime legislator who championed a sweeping law that targeted sex offenders and then battled back into political life after failing health, died Thursday.

She was 62.

A statement from her family cited respiratory complications as the cause of death. She had been absent for much of the legislative year because of her health and was not a candidate for reelection in November.

Runner underwent a double lung transplant in 2012, a result of her long battle with scleroderma and subsequently dropped out of her Senate reelection bid that year. She decided to return in a 2015 special election after another GOP legislator was elected to Congress. She previously served six years in the Assembly, from 2002 to 2008.

Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) called Runner a "champion for California's children" on Thursday, noting that she authored legislation to expand charter schools, help families adopt, and improve the lives of foster kids.

“Sharon’s battle with scleroderma and her successful recovery from a double lung transplant inspired us all, and encouraged many Californians to sign up to become organ donors,” Mayes added.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) praised Runner for service during difficult circumstances.

“While battling a tragic illness, Senator Runner endured and showed a real commitment to representing the people of her district,” De Leon said.

"Sharon Runner's life was one of service," said Jim Brulte, the chairman of California Republican Party, in a statement. "Sharon was committed to the people of her community and our great state."

"Sharon Runner's life was one of service," said Jim Brulte, the chairman of California Republican Party, in a statement. "Sharon was committed to the people of her community and our great state."

Her tenure in the Legislature for several years at the same time as her husband, George Runner, made them the first husband and wife in state history to serve in the Legislature simultaneously. He is now a member of the state Board of Equalization.

The Runners were instrumental in the drafting and passage of "Jessica's Law" in 2006, a ballot measure that required sex offenders to be monitored with GPS devices and placed rules on how close they could live to schools and parks where children gather.  By the spring of 2015, the law's provisions had been weakened by a California Supreme Court ruling and subsequent actions by state corrections officials.

When she won election to the Senate in 2015, Runner told The Times that "it's pretty miraculous to be able to come back again and serve. I'm kind of a comeback story. I'm excited that I am getting back" to Sacramento.

Runner cited health reasons for not seeking re-election to her Senate seat this year in northern Los Angeles County, a district nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Her public service began in 1977 when she co-founded Desert Christian Schools, which today serves nearly 1,700 students of all ages on three campuses. Runner was born in Los Angeles and was a longtime resident of the Antelope Valley.

"She died peacefully at home, surrounded by family and friends," said a written statement on Thursday from the Runner family.

UPDATE 11:40 a.m. This story has been updated from its original version with additional information and reaction from legislators.

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