Sex offender bill wins approval

Stronger and stricter than when it entered the state Senate, Rep. Lois McMahan’s sex offender legislation on Wednesday was sent on to Gov. Gary Locke for a signature.

McMahan, R-Olalla, had been a little disappointed by the trim the House of Representatives gave her bill — House Bill 2400 — before approving it. However, even though the Senate did not add back in the mandatory sentences McMahan supported, it did tighten up the circumstances under which a convicted sex offender could be eligible for a Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative — an option that trades in-depth counseling and behavior modification for suspended prison time.

It also took out clauses rendering the bill “null and void” should it remain unfunded.

“We’re just very tickled about what happened,” McMahan said.

Under the new, added-in rules, any person who rapes or molests a stranger is not eligible for SOSA. Previously, the bill only forbade SOSA to those with recent violent criminal convictions, those with multiple victims or those who caused substantial bodily harm to their victims.

The original proposed rules mandating minimum sentences for those ineligible for SOSA remain intact, as do clauses giving priority to the opinions of the victim and his or her family during sentencing.

In addition, to get around the unfunded mandate problem, the bill will not become law until July 1, 2005.

That gives the state Legislature time to find the necessary funding and protects the bill from being cut if adequate monies cannot be found this year.

Although Locke has reportedly not made any promises about signing the bill, McMahan said she expects he will have no objections. After all, she pointed out, Locke was one of the original architects of the current laws regarding child molesters.

In addition, McMahan said the law community has not expressed any major concerns with the legislation, making it less controversial for the governor to sign.

“We’re not expecting a lot of opposition, but we encourage people, if they’re so inclined, to give him a call,” she said.

McMahan said the bill was inspired by a 12-year-old Gig Harbor girl who was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

The case went to trial last year, but at the end of it, the attacker was sentenced to less than one year in jail.

Ever since, McMahan said, the girl has lived in constant fear of seeing her attacker again.

“She just looks over her shoulder all the time,” McMahan said. “That would be a terrible thing for a poor little girl to bear.”

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