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Davis Demands Megan's Law Be Extended

He urges the Legislature to reconvene and act so sex offenders' database stays available to public.

September 18, 2003|Nancy Vogel and Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis called Wednesday for the Legislature to quickly reconvene and pass a bill to extend what is commonly known as Megan's Law so that Californians can continue to have access to a database of 81,000 convicted sex offenders.

Legislative leaders said they are prepared to accommodate him, although no date has been discussed.

"Every citizen of this state has a right to know whether or not a sexual predator has moved into his or her community," said Davis, speaking to reporters before a town hall meeting with voters in Sacramento.

Without legislative action, Megan's Law -- named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was killed by a convicted sex offender who lived nearby -- will expire on Dec. 31, and Californians will not be able to tap into the registry by visiting a police station or calling (900) 448-3000.

In the final hours of the legislative session that ended Saturday morning, a bill that would have extended Megan's Law fell victim to partisan politics and lingering bitterness over a July budget deal.

The Legislature is not scheduled to return until Jan. 5. But Davis said that if lawmakers do not reconvene within a week, he will call a special session to deal with the sex-offender registry.

"I'm not going to get into the details of how they do this," Davis said.

"I find it absolutely incredible that the Legislature adjourned allowing Megan's Law to expire," he said, blaming Republicans for withholding votes. The governor also said that he supports posting the sex-offender registry on the Internet -- a move long sought by Republicans but stymied by liberal Democrats who fear a backlash against felons who have served their prison time. At least 30 other states put such registries on the Internet.

A bill passed in a special session and signed by the governor can take effect 90 days after the session ends. Bills signed into law during a regular legislative session do not become law until the following Jan. 1, unless they are passed with a two-thirds majority vote and an urgency clause.

An urgency bill that would extend Megan's Law has passed the Senate and is awaiting reconsideration in the Assembly, where a shortage of Republican votes killed it in the final hours of the legislative session.

"All the Assembly has to do is go back and pass the bill," said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco).

Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) said after the governor's announcement: "Assembly Democrats remain committed to keeping Megan's Law on the books. I am working with the members of my caucus now to determine when we can reconvene in Sacramento. We will meet in time to make sure this law does not expire."

On Tuesday, both Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and Assembly Minority Leader Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) called on Davis to quickly convene the Legislature.

If nothing is done in the next three weeks, Lockyer said, California risks losing $5.1 million in federal money tied to an Oct. 1 deadline to authorize university and college police to disclose the names of registered sex offenders on campuses.

"We think it's a great opportunity to in fact get some reform relative to Megan's Law," Cox said.

Since 1995, the attorney general has kept a registry of people convicted of such offenses as sexual battery, rape, lewd acts with a child and child molestation. The registry includes the name, date of birth, physical description and other information about each convicted sex offender.

Republicans and Democrats long have known that Megan's Law expires in January 2004. They tussled all year over various bills that would have extended and revamped the program. In the final hours of the legislative session, shortly before 3 a.m. Saturday, an urgency bill to extend the law died for lack of three Republican votes.

AB 1313 by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford) would have extended Megan's Law until 2007 and permitted universities and colleges to release information about convicted sex offenders on campuses.

Cox said that when the Legislature reconvenes, Republicans will again seek to put the sex-offender registry on the Internet and provide the locations of criminals more narrowly than a ZIP Code.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) said he wants full debate on the Assembly floor about putting the registry on the Internet.

But even if a bill to extend Megan's Law ultimately does not include such a provision, Spitzer said, he thinks there will be enough Republican votes to pass it with an urgency clause.

"I am confident there will be sufficient Republican votes to extend Megan's Law," he said.

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