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McMahan’s molester bill signed into law

Although the version of the anti-sex offender legislation that Gov. Gary Locke signed into law Friday had less punch than Rep. Lois McMahan had envisioned, she said it was a big step in the right direction — and one that looked like it might never happen.

“Today’s signing of this bill is a testament that when citizens become involved, the legislative process works best,” said McMahan, R-Olalla. “This bill wasn’t even going to receive a hearing — that is, until people began calling and asking the chairman of the committee to give it a chance.”

Many victims of child molesters, along with their families and other supporters and sponsors of the measure were on hand to see House Bill 2400, known as the “Child Protection Act of 2004,” become law. The legislation makes it more difficult for child rapists and molesters to receive suspended sentences under the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative (SSOSA) program.

Although changed from its original version, which had called for mandatory minimum sentences against child molesters, McMahan said the measure still strikes at the heart of the problem, which she said was SSOSA.

McMahan noted that the SSOSA program was allowing sex offenders of children who agreed to treatment to spend less than six months in jail. The offenders were often back in the community soon after their release and again terrorizing their victims.

The recently-signed bill mandates significant changes to how the SSOSA program is administered, including:

n Making offenders who have an adult conviction for a violent offense in the last five years, cause substantial bodily harm to a victim, or do not have an established relationship with the victim before the crime ineligible for SSOSA.

n Requiring the court to consider whether SSOSA is too lenient for the crime, whether there were additional victims, whether the offender is amenable to treatment, and the risk to the community, victim, or similar victims.

n Requiring the court to give “great weight” to the victim’s opinions about whether SSOSA should be imposed and to enter written findings stating reasons why SSOSA would be imposed over the victim’s objections.

n Requiring the court to conduct an annual hearing on the offender’s progress in treatment and to give the victim notice and an opportunity to be heard at the hearing regarding the offender’s supervision and treatment.

n Directing the Washington Institute for Public Policy and the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of sex offender sentencing policies, including SSOSA.

McMahan noted that if terms of the SSOSA agreement are violated, the offender will be required to appear in court where conditions of the sentence may be changed. Upon a second violation, the suspended sentence will be revoked, requiring prison time to be served.

“(The) signing of House Bill 2400 reassures victims and their families that their efforts and their suffering has new meaning. It sends a strong and collective message to perpetrators that the citizens of Washington will not tolerate anyone hurting children. Those who do will face certain justice and serious consequences,” McMahan said.

The bill becomes effective July 1, 2005.

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