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Proposed sex offender changes challenged

State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, wants lawmakers to change the way Missouri government treats some sex offenders.

But representatives of seven groups and two state agencies told members of the Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this week that the House-passed bill needs several changes before it even is considered by the full Senate.

“Currently, we have nearly 14,000 people on our sex offender registry — and all of them are lifetime on the registry and, also, lifetime on the public web site,” Hinson told the committee. “What my bill does is bring a little bit of common-sense and bring our code into the 21st century.”

Instead of treating all sex offenders the same, Hinson’s bill proposes to create three tiers of sex offenders, with the state’s Highway Patrol continuing to be responsible for maintaining the list of all people convicted of a crime that requires them to be on the registry.

However, only those convicted of the most-serious crimes, qualifying them for Tier III, would have their names and pictures shown on the web site.

Sharie Keil told the committee that, under current laws: “Many young people involved in non-violent, even consensual relations are now given the label of sex offender, and their lives — and the lives of their families — are ruined by placement on the public registries.”

But those registries really don’t help prevent crimes.

“New sex crimes are overwhelmingly committed by those who are not on the registry,” Keil said.

Hinson’s bill would require only the most serious offenders to remain on the list forever.

“If they were a Tier III offender, they would be on the web site for a minimum of 25 years before they could petition a court to be able to come off,” he explained.

Julie Lawson, a member of the Missouri Victims Assistance Network board of directors, told the committee she also is a victim.

“I was raped and stabbed by two men, 15 years ago,” she said. “That was yesterday, for me.

“That doesn’t go away in five years, when the offender wants to appeal to get off” the registry.

Hinson also would have a “mental health provider” approved by the state Mental Health department do a “risk assessment” on the offender, to determine that person’s likelihood of committing another sex offense.

Philip Taylor, a licensed, private-practice sex-offender treatment provider in Dallas, Texas, told the committee that Texas lawmakers adopted a risk-assessment approach to sex offenders because they didn’t want to “participate in a system that is arbitrary and not scientific.”

Emily van Schenkof, Missouri Kids First deputy director, said her agency had a number of concerns — especially using risk assessments as a tool because they are far from foolproof. “They work sometimes, and they don’t in others,” she said.

And Rick Gowdy, representing DMH, said the requests for risk-assessments would overwhelm the system.

“You’re pretty close to 10,000 evaluations that will be requested,” Gowdy said. “We think a small proportion of mental health professionals are qualified” to make the assessments.

“Many will not want to do this work just because of the liability it presents.”

Barbara Brown-Johnson, of Springfield’s Child Advocacy Center, said: “There’s very little that experts do agree on, which makes this issue extremely difficult. I agree there are a small number of offenders who are on the registry, who do not belong there.”

Troy Stabenow, an assistant federal public defender and a part-time military prosecutor, told the committee: “I am in support of any bill that would reduce a categorical approach to sex offender registration and inject some empirical work into the measure.”

Dottie Duba said her daughter was convicted of a crime requiring registration, then worked as a department store clerk “faithfully for 17 months, until a local newspaper decided to do a story on where sex offenders work,” Duba reported. “They obtained the information from the registry — she was fired.”

Hinson wants to make sure the people who need to be on the registry are on the registry for the longest amount of time, while others — especially the ones he called “the young and dumb — are given a second chance.

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