Friday, March 03, 2006

Manchin Seeks to Block Senate GOP Sex Offender Bill

Just two days following the state Senate's 28-5 vote to adopt a Republican substitute for the Governor's sex offender bill, SB 205 (click on "SB205 SUB1 eng.htm" on the bill summary page), it appears Governor Manchin is trying to have the bill gutted in the House of Delegates.

Senate Minority Leader Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, said today that the Governor's office and the Division of Corrections were already protesting the bill, citing the potential explosion in the state inmate population if the bill becomes law.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall and one of 5 senators who voted against the Sprouse amendment, told Senate members Friday that he has received a fiscal note from the Division of Corrections and it says the increased prison sentences in SB 205 would cost the state $91.5 million extra a year. Kessler says an additional state prison would also have to be built.

Senator Sprouse says he doesn't believe those financial numbers. "That is a bogus number that's being thrown out there because the governor does not want this bill to pass." Sprouse says there's nothing more important or a higher priority than locking up violent sexual predators for the rest of their lives. "These aren't people who steal a car; these are people who rape and molest four and five-year-olds."

Sprouse says state residents would be willing to have more of their tax dollars go to the Division of Correction to house those type of criminals. Sprouse urged senators not to change their minds. "Don't get weak kneed on this thing. You are on the right side of this issue. You are on the people's side of this issue."

Let's talk both about the financial aspects of this bill and the moral aspects.

The moral aspect of this bill should be self-evident: a person who would rape or molest a young child--the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence proposed only involves victims 12 or younger, while lesser penalties will continue to apply to the statutory rape of older, but still underage, children--is someone who, depending on your viewpoint, is either morally depraved and evil or suffers from a severe disease or mental abnormality. In either case, most sane people would want such people locked away and prevented from victimizing more people--in this case very young children who are scarred for life by pedophiles who rape or molest them. We don't have to ask for a fiscal note to know that SB 205, after adoption of the Sprouse amendment, is simply the right thing to do.

Some people may think that even protecting innocent little boys and girls from sexual predators is subject to monetary considerations. To help you understand some of these financial figures, consider this. In fiscal year 2005, the entire state budget was over $8 billion according to the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. About $3.2 billion of that came from federal funds. About $3.3 billion of that came from the state General Revenue Fund--all the taxes and fees imposed and collected by the state. The remainder was from earmarked special revenue funds.

The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety got just over $609 million of the 2005 state budget. The DMAPS is a large agency--consisting of the Army National Guard, the Division of Corrections, the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Division of Juvenile Services, the Division of Veteran Affairs, the Fire Marshal, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, and the State Police. In 2005, $90 million of DMAPS spending was for armory construction and homeland security projects--and we simply must remember that post-9/11, "homeland security" has become a sacred cow turned into a vehicle for pork projects and extravagances that would never fly under another banner. Another $225 million of DMAPS spending was for a special contribution to eliminate the unfunded liability of the Public Safety Death, Disability, and Retirement Fund (State Police Plan A). About half the DMAPS spending was thus for ongoing operations, bringing the real department budget closer to 2004's $330 million.

In a state with an $8 Billion state budget ($3.3 billion general revenue), Senator Kessler and, at least privately, Governor Manchin don't think spending an extra $91.5 million each year to imprison pedophiles and sexually violent predators who rape and molest young children or who randomly attack & rape women of all ages is a worthy priority of state government. They sure have some strange priorities. Subscribers to traditional philosophies of government have generally held that the very first priority a government has to its people is to protect their lives from enemy attack and the criminal element and then likewise protect their liberty, safety, and security from these threats.

It's up to the House of Delegates--where a much weaker bill ran aground earlier this week and died after being re-referred to committee--to pass SB 205 and not weaken it. It's also up to leaders of both houses to get this bill on the Governor's desk early enough to prevent him from vetoing the bill after the Legislature adjourns--and thus preventing them from overriding it without starting the legislative process anew next year.