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House votes to tighten sex offender rules

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA – With one unanimous vote after another, Washington’s House of Representatives on Tuesday approved more than a half-dozen bills aimed at closing loopholes and tightening rules on sex offenders.

“These crimes haunt us all,” said state Rep. Liz Loomis, D-Snohomish.

Among the proposals, which now head to the state Senate:

“Require sex offender registration for some indecent-exposure cases.

“Make sex offenders who can afford it pay for their electronic monitoring.

“Fire and revoke the teaching certificate of school staffers convicted of sex and serious violent offenses against anyone, regardless of age.

Several of the proposals aim to improve tracking of sex offenders.

“There’s no magic bullet to prevent crime, but when it comes to sex offenders, the best weapon we have is knowledge,” Loomis said. She said offenders who fail to register, for example, rely on a “veil of secrecy” to get close to unsuspecting new victims.

The bills that passed the House on Tuesday include:

“HB 2714. This would change the crime of failing to register as a sex offender from a Class C felony to a Class B felony, which keeps convicts under state supervision longer.

“HB 2728. Currently, sexually motivated indecent exposure against a child is a gross misdemeanor, with no requirement to register as a sex offender. This would change it to require registration on the theory that exposure is often a precursor to other sex offenses.

“HB 2786. This would add level 1 sex offenders – considered the lowest risk for re-offending – to the statewide sex offender Web site if they fail to maintain their registration.

“Sometimes a level 1 slips through the cracks,” said state Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. Among them: Terapon Adhahn, who allegedly abducted, raped and killed 12-year-old Zina Linnik from a Tacoma backyard last July. The case prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to form a task force that recommended many of the changes.

“HB 2439. This would require state prison officials and county jails to determine the immigration status of sex offenders. If deportation is appropriate, offenders would be turned over to federal immigration officials once their sentences are served.

“HB 3161. Sex offenders who can afford it would have to pay the cost of their electronic monitoring.

“In my view, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom to live and work outside of prison after committing one of the worst crimes imaginable,” said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton.

“HB 1836. This would fix what lawmakers describe as an unintended loophole. Under current law, a sex offender sent back to prison for a non-sex offense doesn’t have to register with authorities upon release. This would change that.

“HB 3103. This adds many crimes to the list that require mandatory firing and loss of a teaching certificate. The law is triggered now only by serious crimes against children, not when the victim is an adult.

“There’s something wrong with the picture,” said Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma. “… Does the age of the victim make the crime less egregious? Absolutely not.”

Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, said he couldn’t believe the Legislature hadn’t rewritten the law before now. And it’s key, he said, to not have headline-grabbing cases about sexual misconduct by educators at a time when the state is trying to steer more money into education. “It ultimately goes to the credibility issue of the entire educational system,” he said.

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