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‘One-Strike’ Sex Crime Bill OKd by Panel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elbowing into a fray that has taken center stage in the governor’s race, a key Assembly committee approved a controversial bill Tuesday that would slap first-time child molesters and violent rapists with sentences of up to 25 years to life in prison.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee endorsed the so-called “one-strike” bill carried by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) on a 4-to-1 vote after a back-room deal was made to tie the measure’s fate to sex crime bills carried by three Democrats and another Republican.

By doing so, Bergeson was able to propel the measure through the Public Safety Committee, which historically has been a graveyard for GOP anti-crime efforts. The Democrats, meanwhile, gained assurances that Gov. Pete Wilson will sign their measures.

Although the bill was watered down by the Public Safety Committee, Bergeson continued to portray it as the strongest effort to deal with sexual predators in years.

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“I’m very much relieved,” Bergeson said. “I would like to have had a stronger bill, but under the circumstances it’s a very good bill and sends a tough message to sexual predators. It’s probably the toughest in the nation.”

Bergeson began carrying the bill at the behest of Wilson, who has made the rape measure a centerpiece of his election-year crime fight. In recent weeks, it has sparked a bitter dispute between the governor and Democratic challenger Kathleen Brown over her support of the proposal--or lack thereof.

Wilson aired a television commercial in late July portraying Brown as opposed to the “one-strike” bill, which originally called for a blanket sentence of life without parole for nearly all perpetrators of sex crimes.

Brown countered in a news conference and a commercial of her own, calling Wilson’s advertisement “a despicable lie,” arguing that she dropped her opposition to the bill after it was narrowed in the Senate to hit only the most violent predators with a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

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The Public Safety Committee narrowed the bill still further Tuesday by requiring that only the most brutal sexual assaults--those involving torture, mayhem, kidnaping or burglary with the intent to commit rape--would result in a sentence of 25 years to life without possibility of parole. Lesser crimes could still earn sentences of 15 years to life.


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