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Senate OKs Online Listing of Sex Offenders

In boost to Megan's Law, a state registry would have data and photos on many such ex-convicts.

August 20, 2004|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In the most significant expansion of California's version of Megan's Law since it was enacted in 1996, the state Senate voted Thursday to post photographs and other information about released sex offenders on the Internet.

But Democrats blocked Republican efforts to expand the categories of crimes that would qualify sex offenders to be publicly listed and to identify the home addresses of all offenders.

Democrats agreed to reveal addresses only for repeat offenders and for predators who committed the most serious crimes, such as kidnapping to commit rape and rape of a child under 14 by someone at least 10 years older.

For many other felony offenders -- such as first-time convicts who raped unconscious, disabled or drunk victims -- only their ZIP Code would be posted.

"California has been sorely behind the curve for a long, long time," said Sen. Jim Battin (R-La Quinta), who sponsored seven previous versions of the bill.

In 1947, California became the first state to require sex offenders released from prison to register with law enforcement officials.

But the information was not released to the public until 1996, after a New Jersey girl named Megan Kanka was raped and killed by a sex offender released into her neighborhood.

Access to the information has been disseminated by law enforcement officials, and callers can inquire about a specific individual through a 900 number.

Democrats who control the Legislature had refused to place the information on the Internet until this year.

GOP officials charged that they were doing so now only to help one of their most vulnerable incumbents: Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), who is in a tight reelection race. She sponsored the bill, AB 488, which the Senate approved 35 to 1.

Parra disputed that her reelection effort was the reason for the bill's passage.

"We may have been a little late to put it on the Internet, but it was only in March that the [U.S.] Supreme Court validated the ability for states to put the Megan's Law database on the Internet," she said.

While some counties have begun constructing their own online registries, the new bill would require the state Department of Justice to create one unified Internet listing of sex offenders throughout California.

The Assembly is expected to send the bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not stated his position on it. The Legislature allocated $650,000 to pay for the program, which is supposed to begin next July.

Also on Thursday, legislators voted to:

* Require cities and counties to consult Indian tribes before they allowed building on historic sites that were once used for sacred rituals.

"We finally have on a state level recognition of tribal culture, recognition of our sacred sites. That would be akin to actually the state finally recognizing the Catholic Church," said Anthony Miranda, a member of the Pechanga tribe. "That's the struggle that we've been in, to be finally recognized that yes, we do have a culture."

The bill, approved 30 to 4 by the Senate, was a weaker version of several previous measures that could not overcome opposition from utilities, oil companies and the business lobby. Having already won Assembly approval, it goes to Schwarzenegger.

* Require insurance companies to treat registered domestic partners the same as they treat married spouses when selling them car, health, homeowners and other coverage. The Senate passed AB 2208 by a vote of 23 to 12; the amended bill goes back to the Assembly.

* Make it easier for local agencies to distribute syringes to drug addicts in order to avoid their relying on used needles and getting infected with HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. AB 2871 repeals a current law that requires cities and counties to first declare a local health emergency. The Senate passed the bill 21 to 14; it still needs Assembly approval of amendments.

* Require the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to keep air pollution at or below 2004 levels. AB 2042 is a response to concerns that diesel-burning ships, trucks and trains at the nation's largest port complex are exposing residents to cancer-causing emissions. Industry groups say the measure could eliminate jobs and weaken the area economy. The Senate passed it 21 to 15; it now returns to the Assembly.

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