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Gov. Rejects Sex-Offender Bill Backed by GOP

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Tuesday measures to tighten surveillance of criminals and crack down on child molesters, but vetoed a bill strongly endorsed by his fellow Republicans to find ways to keep more than 105,000 registered sex offenders from committing more crimes.

In action on 65 bills, the governor signed legislation that will allow counties and the state to strap global positioning system devices to the ankles of criminals on probation or parole and track them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Florida officials, who began using such devices a decade ago, credit them with a big drop in repeat offenses.

“It’s going to reduce crime, it’s going to reduce costs, and it’s going to protect the public,” said Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), author of SB 619.

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Several counties have been anxiously awaiting authorization to buy the devices, which cost about $9 a day to operate and can be assigned by probation officers without a judge’s order.

“We really, really wanted this,” said Vicki Mathews, legislative analyst for the Orange County Probation Department, which is prepared to quickly go out to bid to buy the devices. “This gives us an extra level of supervision for those folks who are high-risk.”

One of the five bills Schwarzenegger vetoed Tuesday had rare, unanimous support in the Legislature, receiving not a single “no” vote. AB 632, by Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), would have created a Sex Offender Management Board that would use federal money to make recommendations on how best to house, treat, track and assess the about 105,000 registered sex offenders in California. About 20,000 of them remain under law enforcement supervision.

In an unusually strong veto message, Schwarzenegger said that under the bill, not one sexual offender would have spent a day longer in prison, been prohibited from living near schools or been monitored by satellite tracking.

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“This bill is a recipe to create more red tape, not public safety,” the governor wrote. He urged lawmakers instead to pass the “comprehensive sex offender punishment and control reform” that was contained in two bills that he supported but that stalled in the Democrat-dominated Legislature.

The governor’s proposals would have required registered sex offenders to wear global positioning system devices for the rest of their lives, increased penalties for child molestation, made possession of child pornography a felony and expanded parole terms to as much as a decade for some sex offenders.

In mid-August, a few weeks before the Legislature adjourned for the year, those proposals were inserted into two bills -- AB 231 and SB 588 by Assemblywoman Sharon Runner and her husband, state Sen. George Runner, both Republicans from Lancaster. The language of the bills is now embodied in an initiative being circulated for the June 2006 ballot.

Schwarzenegger has said that he supports the initiative but would prefer to see the Legislature revive and pass the Runner bills next year.

Chu said Schwarzenegger “missed the point” of her bill.

“It’s not about putting more sex offenders behind bars,” she said. “It’s to deal with the ones that have been set free.”

Spitzer said Schwarzenegger had been “hoodwinked and snookered” by his Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which has been criticized for clustering paroled sex offenders in apartments and houses.

“The Department of Corrections obviously does not want to be accountable for the placement of sex offenders in California,” Spitzer said.

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Robert Coombs, policy director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the nonprofit group that had requested Chu’s bill, accused the governor of sacrificing her bill for his own agenda.

“I think it’s pretty obvious he has a couple of pet bills he’d like to have passed in its place,” Coombs said.

Backers of Chu’s bill had searched nationwide for the best sex offender management practices in other states and consulted dozens of experts, he said. The Runner bills requested by Schwarzenegger combined 21 different elements from bills that had been rejected in the Legislature. In vetoing the measure, Schwarzenegger is “preying upon the public hysteria around sexual violence without creating meaningful or sound law,” Coombs said. “To have legislation of this stature go down, with so much support .... It’s shocking.”

Also on Tuesday, the governor signed legislation that will:

* Prevent Medi-Cal from paying for erectile dysfunction drugs for registered sex offenders, in line with a May directive that Schwarzenegger issued to state agencies (AB 522 by Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego).

* Strip judges of the discretion to order therapy or probation instead of prison for people who sexually abuse their children or stepchildren (SB 33 by Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta).

* Give the victims of certain felony sex offenses when they were children until their 28th birthday to report those crimes (SB 111 by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara).

* Ban courts from granting custody or unsupervised visitation rights to a parent who lives with a convicted child molester (SB 594 by Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch).

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* Prohibit certain child molesters on parole from living within half a mile of public or private schools (AB 113 by Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, D-Saratoga).

* Exempt from disclosure under the state Public Records Act information about power plants, water systems and other critical infrastructure (AB 1495 by Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, D-Pittsburg).

* Extend an eight-county Central Valley rural crime prevention program that is earmarked to receive $3.4 million this year.

“Most people don’t really think about it,” the governor said in signing SB 453 by Sen. Charles Poochigian (R-Fresno) at his Capitol office, “but there is a tremendous amount of crime in the rural areas and especially in the Central Valley, where farmers lose a lot of their equipment and their products because they get stolen.”


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