Olympia Divided on Sex Offender IssueJanuary 30th, 2006 by josh farley
In 2005, the most paramount issue in the State Legislature — raising the gas tax to fund billions in transportation projects — came at the tail end of the session, as lawmakers fought tooth and nail on both sides of the debate.
Thus far this year, the issue that has come to the forefront is how the state handles its convicted sex offenders. And by contrast, the debate began, “Within minutes of the Legislature’s ceremonial opening gavels falling at the Capitol,” according to David Ammons, Political Writer for the Associated Press.
In a time in which Democrats control both the state House of Representatives and the Senate (not to mention the governor’s mansion), Republicans have recognized that it will take some evasive political maneuvering to get certain messages across. Thus, on opening day, they brought to the floor about 170 page-long House Bill 2476 — which, most notably, would increase sex offender sentences to a minimum of 25 years for child molestation, and 30 years for child rape — in an attempt to advance their Legislation quickly.
House Democrats, including Poulsbo’s Sherry Appleton, said they were unwilling to pass the bill in an unconventional means, as it had not gone through the usual channels of committee. The bill fell on a party line vote, and though the Republicans had lost, it gave them a political angle from which to attack: that Democrats were “softies” when it came to sex offenders.
Several state Republican groups quickly went to different media channels to spread the word to voters (their timing is impeccable, this being an election year). In the meantime, Democrats introduced their own sex offender Legislation — House Bill 2411, which would increase most sentences for child molestation and rape to a minimum of 25 years, though only for crimes in which strangers, and not family members, were involved.
Republicans, including Kingston’s Bev Woods, still back HB 2476, and Democrats their own aforementioned bill. But the debate here in Kitsap County is more pragmatic than partisan, as prosecutors, police and other officials along the criminal justice spectrum will deal with the issue long after any bill gets a signature from Governor Christine Gregoire.
As we’ve seen from a recent horrifying rape and abduction of a Bremerton teen, the issue hits close to home, far too often. There are also many convicted sex offenders living in Kitsap and Mason Counties.
And there’s more: the pair of bills make up only the tip of the ice burg for sex offender legislation. In a move some political pundits called unorthodox, State Attorney General Rob McKenna introduced his own package of bills, and droves of lawmakers rushed to sponsor their own Legislation.
From keeping sex offenders out of kids’ hangouts to finding ways of tracking homeless offenders more accurately there are literally dozens of bills moving through committees, some that will undoubtedly reach the House and/or Senate floor for vote.
Though the Legislature is in its short, 60-day session, the potential is there for many new laws to be passed, and this week could see many of them clear committees and head for a vote.
Which of the bills do you support? Which are you against?