House panel passes ‘Dru’s Law’ in sex offender bill
WASHINGTON (AP) – Sex offenders could spend five years in prison for failing to register with local authorities under legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel, which also approved a plan named after slain student Dru Sjodin.
The punishment was part of the “Children’s Safety Act of 2005” by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., that increases the monitoring of sex offenders and toughens the punishments for some of their crimes.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation on a 22-4 vote. It compels states to have uniform registration Web sites for sex offenders, and establishes new minimum sentences for some crimes against children.
It also incorporates “Dru’s Law,” a bill pending in the Senate to create a national database of sex offenders. The University of North Dakota student was kidnapped two years ago and later found dead. (Related story: Sex offender Web registry launched)
A convicted sex offender, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. of Crookston, Minn., has been charged in federal court with kidnapping resulting in Sjodin’s death.
Minnesota children’s advocate Patty Wetterling, whose son was abducted 16 years ago and hasn’t been found, and Linda Walker of Pequot Lakes, Minn., Dru’s mother, rallied in Washington for the bill’s passage on Tuesday.
Democrats came within one vote on Wednesday of amending the registration penalties. Critics called the five-year minimum too harsh, noting that it applied even to people convicted of misdemeanors.
“Failing to register should not have a minimum sentence,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. “A judge can make that determination.”
Under the provision, Nadler said, a person could serve more time in prison for failing to report than for the actual crime committed. “That doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.
But Rep. Mark Green, a Wisconsin Republican who is running for governor, said failing to register undermines a key weapon against sex offenders — knowledge of where they’re living.
The bill includes Green’s proposal to add juvenile sex offenders to state registration lists.
“It is, in my view, a very serious offense,” he said of failing to register. And he defended taking the decision away from judges.
“We’re here because unfortunately judges have failed us in some of these cases,” Green said.
The committee defeated the amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., to eliminate the minimum sentences for failing to register, 17-16.
Voting against the overall bill were Democrats Scott, Nadler, Linda Sanchez of California and John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
“We need to move past the emotional side of this issue,” said Conyers, calling the new mandatory minimum sentences “over the top … We need to invest in solutions of a preventive nature.”
Sensenbrenner said he planned to bring the bill up for a vote in the full House in September, after Congress returns from its August recess.
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