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Lawmakers to Weigh Extension of Megan's Law

September 23, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers who scattered last week for their traditional fall break will return to Sacramento on Monday to reconsider renewing a law that lets anyone find out whether registered sex offenders are living in their neighborhood. The renewal fell victim to partisan squabbling in the last hours of the legislative session earlier this month and was defeated.

The 80 members of the Assembly wouldn't typically reconvene until Jan. 5, but Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) called them back to Sacramento to reconsider a bill that would extend the so-called Megan's Law, which gives the public access to a registry of more than 81,000 convicted sex offenders. The law expires Jan. 1.

A bill to extend Megan's Law, named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was killed by a convicted sex offender living in her neighborhood, died shortly before the Assembly adjourned at 4 a.m. Sept. 13. It has already passed the Senate and is awaiting reconsideration in the Assembly.

If passed, the bill would go directly to Gov. Gray Davis, who last week called on the Legislature to reconvene and deal with the extension.

Without rule waivers, no new bills can be introduced when the Assembly reconvenes, and no existing bills can be amended without action by the Senate -- which will not return Monday.

Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton (D-San Francisco) said he would not call 40 senators back to Sacramento. They are, he said, "scattered to the four winds and the seven seas."

"No need," said Burton. "All the Assembly's got to do is pass the bill."

It may not be so simple. Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox (D-Fair Oaks) insisted Monday that Davis should require the Assembly to reconvene in a special session, not the regular session, so that legislation can be introduced and amended. He argued that Megan's Law needs substantial revision so that the public can review the database on the Internet and locate sex offenders by address rather than zip code.

"Everyone shares the same concern that just the extension of Megan's Law is not sufficient," said Cox.

The bill up for consideration by the Assembly, AB 1313 by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), would extend Megan's Law until 2007. It also would permit universities and colleges to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living or working on campus.

Parra's bill needed 54 votes -- a two-thirds majority -- to clear the Assembly. It got all but one possible Democratic vote, but died for lack of three votes from Republicans. Democrats blamed Republicans for the failure.

But Cox accused Democratic leaders of trying to embarrass Republicans by forcing a vote when they knew GOP members had decided not to approve any 54-vote bills as retribution for promises broken by Democrats during budget negotiations in July.

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