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GPS-tampering bill clears first state legislative committee

April 30, 2013|By Paige St. John | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
  • A Senate bill makes repeat tampering with GPS devices like the one above a potential prison offense.
A Senate bill makes repeat tampering with GPS devices like the one above… (Image courtesy of Satellite…)

A pared-down bill that would send sex offenders who repeatedly remove their GPS tracking devices back to state prison cleared its first legislative committee Tuesday, making progress where broader measures failed.

In a deal struck with Democratic leaders who seek to protect Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment plan, Sen. Ted Lieu amended his GPS-tampering bill to make first offenses punishable by a mandatory 180 days in county jail, the maximum penalty currently on the books.

Second offenses would require a year in county jail, and on the third offense, the parolee would be required to be returned to prison. The legislation would apply only to some 8,000 paroled sex offenders who are required to wear electronic monitors. It does not address gang members, domestic stalkers and other parolees the state may be tracking.

"To me this is not an issue that deals with realignment. It deals with the integrity of our GPS monitoring system," Lieu (D-Torrance) told the Senate Public Safety Committee just prior to a passing vote. He cited a federally funded study that shows sex offenders who are monitored by GPS systems are less likely to commit a new crime while on parole.

The amended bill had broad support from state law enforcement agencies. Earlier opponents, including public defenders, said they would consider the amendments.

[Updated, 2:30 p.m. April 30: A slate of Republican-backed measures that called for tougher penalties have had no success. The House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday killed a bill by Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) that required prison time for parolees who take off their GPS devices. Afterward, Patterson blasted Democrats on the committee who voted against his bill, saying they "now bear personal responsibility for the carnage to come."]

California is under federal court orders to reduce crowding in state prisons and Brown must, by Thursday, submit a plan to remove some 9,000 additional inmates. His 2011 realignment plan reduced the state prison population by more than 20,000 by making lower-level felonies a county jail offense and requiring counties to house parole violators. A Times investigation showed some counties, unable to fit parole violators in their jails, were setting them free, in turn leading to a sharp rise in sex offenders removing their GPS trackers.

In response to records requests from The Times, state corrections officials acknowledged more than 4,900 warrants filed against paroled sex offenders for disabling their GPS devices in the first 15 months after penalties for doing so were reduced.

SB57 now goes to the Senate Appropriations committee.

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