Senators sat transfixed as victims of sex offenders pleaded for laws making their offenders’ names and addresses public.
“If anyone in this room agrees that these offenders have more rights than their victims, then I want you to face my daughter, who is here today,” Sandy Tatham of Hauser Lake, Idaho, told the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee. “She has a permanent life sentence.”
This month, the Tathams picketed the home of a child molester who had been released on parole and had moved back to their neighborhood without their knowledge - two doors down from his victim.
“Why can the state allow that to happen?” the young victim asked the committee on Wednesday. “How can the state say that the child molester has the right to feel safe in his own home when the victim cannot?”
Pausing often, the 16-year-old told the committee her story and urged its members to pass the legislation.
“Why must the children be the ones to suffer?” she asked. “It is too late to benefit me, but it is not too late to save the innocence of others.”
After the picketing, molester Mario Rios Sr. moved.
Susan Armstrong, a mother of two young boys from Rupert, Idaho, told the story of discovering that a teenage baby sitter was molesting her sons.
“I do know that the passing of this bill will prevent this same juvenile and others like him from having access to other innocent children,” she said. “Now is the time for parents to have the means to protect their innocent children.”
Two bills are being considered in the committee, the first making the names of adult sex offenders widely available to the public and the second doing the same with juvenile sex offenders.
Mike Schwarzkopf of the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he, too, is a parent. But “we sometimes have to stand up in the face of bad facts and bad cases to try to prevent bad law from coming out of them.”
Schwarzkopf said he believes several sections of the legislation raise constitutional questions, and he said it went too far by including three crimes that could land offenders on the list: Statutory rape, possession of child pornography and infamous crime against nature.
Statutory rape could include cases where an 18-year-old had consensual sex with a 16-year-old girlfriend, and that shouldn’t warrant branding the 18-year-old a sexual predator, Schwarzkopf said.
The infamous crime law, usually used to prosecute forcible sodomy, also could be used to prosecute two consenting adults who engage in certain types of sexual intercourse, Schwarzkopf noted.
Bill von Tagen, deputy Idaho Attorney General, said the infamous crime law is rarely used that way. “I am not aware of a case where that has been charged,” he said.
He said he believes the other two crimes fall within the guidelines of federal laws that refer to “any conduct that by its nature constitutes a sexual offense against a minor.” Federal laws pushing states to make offenders’ names public are part of the reason Idaho is considering the legislation.
Von Tagen said child pornography belongs on the list. “Possession of child pornography … does involve the exploitation of children.”
Josh Buehner, president of North Idaho College’s Human Equality Club and an organizer of the Hauser Lake picket, presented the committee with petitions with 2,500 signatures from North Idaho residents in support of the legislation.
“We need to protect our kids,” Buehner, 20, told the committee. “The answers are clear to me, although I am not a member of the Idaho Senate yet.”
Nearly 50 people crowded into the committee’s meeting room, and the hearing had to be continued to Monday to allow them all a chance to speak.
But Sen. Jack Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he already was convinced.
“This one for me is very easy,” he said. “I would have voted right now to support it. I think the law we have right now is next to meaningless.”
Idaho currently requires sex offenders to register, but only law enforcement gets the names and addresses. People can’t get the information unless they provide the offender’s name and birth date.
Under the proposed legislation, anyone could get a list of registered sex offenders by zip code, or a statewide or regional list. If an offender can prove that he’s no longer a risk after 10 years on the registry, his name can be taken off the list. Otherwise, it stays on for life.
The bill imposes misdemeanor penalties on anyone who uses the information for illegal purposes - like to harass or threaten offenders.
Riggs said he wanted to look into the inclusion of the three crimes mentioned by the ACLU, but added, “I don’t see anything that I would see as a major roadblock.”
Sen. Clyde Boatright, R-Rathdrum, said he proposed legislation back in 1995 to make sex offenders’ names and whereabouts public. “At that time I was told it was too harsh,” he said. “Since then, we’ve had three years of victims.”
Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said the legislation would allow parents to find out when a convicted sex offender moves into their neighborhood, so they can keep their children away from the offender.
Scott Shaw, the Preston, Idaho police chief, said, “Every sex offender needs one thing - opportunity. The sex offender has thrived on the very secrecy that we in Idaho have given them.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? Senate committee hearings on laws requiring the release of sex offenders’ names will continue Monday in Boise. If approved, the bills will go to a vote of the full Senate.