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Sex Crime Data to Go on Web

In expansion of Megan's Law, the governor signs bill requiring the state to post sex offenders' names, photos and other details on the Internet.

September 25, 2004|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday delivered a preelection gift to one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Legislature by signing her bill to post information about released sex offenders on the Internet.

Approving the legislation to expand Megan's Law, which had been coauthored by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), was the latest decision Schwarzenegger has made this month with little apparent concern for the political consequences in the November elections, both Democratic and Republican strategists agreed.

In past days, Schwarzenegger has signed legislation banning the sale of .50-caliber guns to the dismay of gun groups that are traditionally enthusiastic Republicans. He has angered another core GOP group, social conservatives, by approving legislation to let drug users buy syringes without a prescription and to require insurers to provide gay and lesbian domestic partners with the same insurance they would offer a spouse.

"Conservatives voted overwhelmingly for Schwarzenegger, but on family issues he's taken them for a ride and given them a raw deal," said Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign for California Families, a Sacramento-based nonprofit group. "The undermining of marriage, the promotion of drug use and the paroling of more murderers than [former Gov.] Gray Davis ever dreamed of is alarming conservatives and making them rethink their support."

The governor has also approved bills by other Democrats locked in tight races. For instance, so far he has signed 11 bills written by Sen. Mike Machado (D-Linden) and vetoed only two, even though Schwarzenegger has been actively assisting the campaign of Machado's Republican opponent, Stockton Mayor Gary Podesta. The battle for the 5th Senate District is considered to be the most intense in the California Senate.

The sex offenders' bill has been embroiled in election politics all year. Although California was the first to create a sex offender registry back in 1947 to help police, it has lagged behind more than 30 states in making the information widely available to the public. Since 1996, the information has been publicly available through law enforcement officials and a toll-free number -- methods that critics said made it hard to use.

Republicans have tried to expand access to the information over the last seven years, but the Democratic-controlled Legislature refused until this year, when party leaders agreed to do it to aid Parra. Her reelection is threatened by a rematch against Bakersfield construction company owner Dean Gardner, who missed beating Parra two years ago by fewer than 300 votes.

The bill Schwarzenegger approved, AB 488, requires the state to post on the Internet by next July the names, photographs and relevant criminal history of sex offenders.

Serious sex offenders would have their addresses listed, while others, such as first-time convicts who raped a drunk victim, would be located within a ZIP code. Out of the 67,659 sex offenders currently released in California, 55,696 are considered high-risk or serious, according to the attorney general's office.

Schwarzenegger signed the sex offender bill even as the governor agreed with many Republican lawmakers who objected that it did not place enough information on the Internet.

"This bill represents a good first step in providing the most valuable tool we can give to parents to protect their children from sexual predators -- information," the governor wrote in a message accompanying the bill signing. "That being said, we have a long way to go to make California a leader in protecting our children. I encourage the Legislature to work together next year to provide a more comprehensive measure that will ensure more of the Megan's Law database is available to the public with information on their neighbors and neighborhood."

Dan Schnur, a GOP consultant, said that while signing the bill will help Parra, it would have been impossible for the governor to veto it because the law is a significant step forward.

"Schwarzenegger has quite a bit invested in winning that seat back, but this looks like a good decision of policy over politics," he said. "You can always do another fundraiser for Gardner, but there's no way you're going to veto a bill like this."

Of course, overall, Schwarzenegger's legislative actions thus far have hewed closely to Republican positions. He has vetoed bills that would have increased the state's minimum wage and given driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

He has sided with the Chamber of Commerce on many measures, and Democratic lawmakers expect that by the end of the month he will have vetoed their efforts to make it easier to import prescription drugs from Canada and to crack down on companies that move California jobs overseas.

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