BILLS TARGET SEX OFFENDERS

Kaylei Holloway speaks on what she believes are the physical and emotional dangers of teenage intercourse.

Kaylei Holloway speaks on what she believes are the physical and emotional dangers of teenage intercourse.

Alexandra Nicolas

A collection of bills, all targeted at sexual offenders, would create buffer zones around certain properties and prohibit certain offenders from coaching or assisting with youth athletic teams.

Currently, sex offenders cannot live within 1000 feet of a school. House Bill 1397 mandates that certain offenders (those who’s convictions relate to children) could not be physically present within 500 feet of any childcare facility.

In addition to schools and childcare facilities HB 1536 would prohibit the same offenders from being with in 500 feet of any public park with playground equipment or a public swimming pool.

While all who testified agreed with the bills motives of protecting children, the issue of forcing registered offender into ‘clusters.’ ‘Clusters’ refer to groups of offenders living closely due to difficulty finding homes far enough from schools, playgrounds, public pools, churches and other restricted locations.

“I’m not for sex offenders, let me be very clear, but I do believe we can go too far to the extreme to protect the children in our neighborhoods,” said Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D- St. Louis).

Sponsored by Rep. Gary Dusenberg (R – Blue Springs), HB 1397 would prohibit the presence of child-related sexual offenders with in 500 feet of a childcare facility when ‘persons under the age of 18 are present in the building.’ Offenders would be allowed in the 500-foot radius only if their child is at the facility.

“This is a pretty simple bill,” Dusenberg said. “The current law on the books mainly applies to schools.”

Dusenberg said this bill was prompted by an event in his hometown of Blue Springs when a registered offender, Ted Mason, purchased property that turned out to be too close to a home daycare service. Mason was sentenced to five years probation after a felony indecent exposure in front of a child eight years ago. Since the bills introduction he has discussed the issue with his neighbor and she believes he is not being treated fairly.

“I spoke to her at the QuickTrip up the street, that I will no longer be able to go to if this law passes,” he said.

Mason, who went through a community-based treatment program says he is a changed man and now wants to be part of the solution.

“I don’t disagree with the intent of the bill, I want to protect kids, I have a 13 year old,” Mason said, “I believe in the list, and I’m on it. The intent of this bill is honorable, but it is somewhat misguided,”

In the months since moving in next to the daycare service Mason said he has established and maintained a good relationship with the Blue Springs police department, but dealing with the media attention has been challenging.

“Does the daycare operator call me and tell me I can come home?” he said. “You’ve just put my life in the daycare owners’ hands.” If passed, those who violated 1397 would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.

Both sponsored by Rep. Will Kraus (R-Raytown) HB 1560 and 1536 would make public playgrounds and swimming pools off limits to registered offenders as well as barring them from coaching or assisting in youth sports.

Currently HB 1536 lists “any public park with playground equipment or a public swimming pool” as a way to limit the number of parks that would be off limits.

“We want this legislation to pass, that’s why we put playground equipment in the bill,” Kraus said.

Currently Senate Bill 758 would bar offenders from State parks with out the permission of the superintendent.

Kraus said he got the idea for the bills from a fellow parent at his sons soccer game who said her child was coached by a registered sex offender and that he does not believe this legislation is going to far.

“To the question of where does it stop for the offenders, my question is where does it stop for the child,” he said.

In the current text, those who violate 1536 or 1560 would be guilty of a class D misdemeanor, a repeat offense would be a class D felony.

Similarly to 1397 Mason said he agrees with the bill’s intention but believes the implementation is flawed.

“I don’t care that much about parks, I’m getting old and it hurts but last weekend at my church, we all got together,” he said. “We had hot dogs, gave out Easter eggs, sang gospel music with our priest, with the word of God. I could never go back, because there’s playground equipment.”

However, the discussion over this year’s large collection of bills aimed at protecting children from sexual offenders has raised the issue of the way sexual offenders are classified in Missouri. Currently anyone may go onto the Missouri State Higway Patrol Web site to see a list of offenders living in their area. Many of this year’s bills do not contain specific languages about offenders currently on parole, those who commited non violent offenses or who were convicted on technicalities.

“You’re telling me that someone who went on a porn site and clicked on a picture of a child is the same thing as raping that child. That’s very flawed,” Nasheed said.

Kraus said he would not be opposed to incorportating some sort of rating system for offenders based on the severity of their offenses.

“Don’t put me in the same box as John Couey who kidnapped Jessica Lunsford, raped her for three days, killed her and buried her is his backyard. That’s not me,” Mason said.

With the number of new laws to restricting the movement of sexual offenders ‘clustering’ has also become a serious concern.

“Even here in Missouri, there was a story about how people who ended up on the sexual offender registry who all ended up in one apartment building because of where they could go,” said John Coffman, Missouri lobbyist for the ACLU.