BOISE – The state Senate on Monday unanimously passed two bills meant to stiffen penalties against sex offenders after several high-profile crimes against children in Idaho in 2005 prompted cries for tougher laws.
In a 34-0 vote, lawmakers supported a plan to boost minimum prison terms for repeat sex offenders to 15 years and to boost the minimum sentence for repeat violent sex offenders to life in prison.
In a separate, identical vote, senators favored eliminating leeway for judges to reduce felony sex crimes to misdemeanors after a defendant has been convicted or pleaded guilty to a crime that requires sex-offender registration.
Law enforcement agencies’ efforts to protect their communities from repeat offenders “are impaired so long as some sexual offenders are able to have their convictions dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor,” according to the second bill.
One senator, Tom Gannon, R-Buhl, was absent Monday.
Two high-profile sex offender cases have prompted the proposed legislation.
Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted sex offender, is accused of killing three members of a Coeur d’Alene-area family and abducting two children for sex last May. He faces trial on three counts of murder and kidnapping.
After the Idaho state case is finished, Duncan is expected to face federal charges of kidnapping the two children and killing little Dylan Groene.
In the other incident, a convicted sex offender accused of taking his 12-year-old daughter from her Athol home into a remote area – raping and stabbing her and leaving her for dead – pleaded guilty last fall to rape and kidnapping.
The girl was rescued by campers.
There are more measures to come: On Tuesday, senators are due to vote on Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s proposal to increase penalties for all classes of sex offenders and boost punishments for those offenders who fail to meet Idaho’s sex offender registration requirements.