State could consider juvenile sex offender bill

Allowing juveniles to seek removal from Missouri’s sex offender registry is a target for a possible veto override when state lawmakers return to the state Capitol in several weeks.

The legislation prompted little opposition in the Republican-led Legislature but drew the ire of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who said this summer that it is overbroad and would “reduce public safety and fail to protect the rights of victims.”

Legislators are considering whether to enact it anyway. Missouri lawmakers return to Jefferson City to consider veto overrides on Sept. 11, and a successful override requires a two-thirds majority.

House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican from Eureka, said this past week the legislation “is ripe for an override.”

Under the measure, people who were younger than 18 when they committed a sex offense would not appear on public notification websites operated by law enforcement officials. Those already named on such sites would be removed. In addition, people who committed the crime as a juvenile could petition the courts for removal from the state registry five years after the conviction or their release from custody. Judges would grant the request unless the person faces charges for failing to properly register or for another sex offense, has not completed probation or parole or has not lived in Missouri for at least five years if the initial offense was committed elsewhere. Petitions for removal would be filed in the circuit court in the county where the person was found guilty.

Nixon announced the veto in early July and said about 560 sex offenders could be eligible for immediate removal from the public websites. He said the measure would apply to any juvenile sex offenders regardless of what crime was committed and that it did not give judges discretion to consider whether someone eligible for removal could be taken off without risking public safety. There are about 13,500 active offenders on Missouri’s registry.

Rep. Dave Hinson, who supports the legislation, said permitting the removal of juvenile offenders who have not committed another sex crime and have followed court requirements should not affect public safety. He said he believes in giving people a second chance “just like God does.”

“If we let a murderer out of prison that guy could still re-offend, and we don’t have a public website that lists all the murders,” said Hinson, R-St. Clair.

And limiting discretion to deny a request for removal could protect judges from political ramifications, Hinson said. Trial judges outside urban areas run for election on partisan ballots.

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