Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ruling Party Leaders Launch Full-Court Press to Sink Senate GOP Sex Offender Bill

What started as a trickle yesterday has become a torrent. Leaders of the Ruling Party from both the legislative leadership and the Manchin Administration have declared war on the current version of SB 205 and are now trying to pull all the stops to sink any bill that is little more than a couple of dozen pages that seek to make people think a problem is being addressed when it is not.

Yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall and supporter of keeping child rapists eligible for probation, launched the opening public salvo of a last-ditch effort to torpedo the bill by bemoaning its potential annual cost to the state of up to $162 million. Later in the day, a variety of officials from the Manchin Administration joined the public hand-wringing over the potential of mandatory prison sentences for all child molesters and rapists.

Articles circulating in all of today's newspapers, including the Beckley Register-Herald. the Charleston Gazette, and the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, paint the image of certain financial ruin for the state should our prison system consume another $100 million annually of a $3.3 billion general revenue budget.

Those of you who think the West Virginia Legislature is filled with conservative Democrats--and thus it's really not that important that we elect a Republican majority--need to think about whether these people are representing your views. Do we want to continue policies that allow convicted child molesters and rapists to get probation or do we want to follow the lead of Florida and many other states that are adopting 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for any adult who sexually assaults or sexually abuses a child 12 or younger and similarly appropriate sentences for other degrees of sexual assault and sexual abuse?

I submit to you that $100 million annually is quite a bargain for the protection we would receive. Pedophiles who molest and rape young children permanently scar these kids and reoffend more than any other group of criminals. Current law allows accused child rapists to plead their cases (i.e., sexual assault in the first degree) down to lesser charges (i.e., sexual abuse in the first degree) and serve short prison sentences, if any at all.

When Florida passed the Jessica Lunsford Act last year, Florida legislators imposed a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for any adult who sexually assaults or sexually abuses a child younger than 12, followed by mandatory lifetime supervised release with constant GPS monitoring & tracking and a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a second offense of committing any sexual offense against a child younger than 12. The Florida supervised release program is in addition to--and not in lieu of--the mandatory prison sentence.

The debate we are now having over the punishments for felony sexual offenses is critical as it reflects basic, guiding principles of our legislators. What is the first priority of government to the people? Is it not to protect the lives, liberty, and security of the people from foreign enemies and domestic criminals, especially violent criminals who would rape and molest little children? What are we saying about our state and our society if, because of purported financial considerations, we cannot see fit to impose tough, mandatory prison sentences on convicted rapists and child molesters? If these criminals do not deserve tough prison sentences, who does?