Missouri House proposes reform of sex offender registry

A bill that would update Missouri’s sex offender registry has been sent to the state Senate.

Representative Kurt Bahr (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 2042 would classify the registry’s offenders into three tiers based on their offenses:  less-serious offenses would land an offender on the first tier, with those on the third tier having committed the most serious offenses.  Those on the first tier could petition the courts to be removed from the registry ten years after being placed on it.  Those on the second tier could petition after 25 years; those on tier three would remain on the registry for life.  Those who commit additional sex crimes or felonies while on the registry also could not petition for removal.

The bill’s sponsor, St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr, said for some offenders to have the opportunity to come off of the registry will strengthen it, while giving those offenders a better chance at getting quality employment and jobs and put them at less risk of re-offending.

The bill was passed out of the House 144-2.  Bahr was surprised at the broad support it received.

“The issue at hand is controversial, but I think most people recognized that I worked very hard to keep it completely consistent with the existing federal law to begin with, and that it was a fair and balanced approach to deal with an issue that, while it’s something people don’t like talking about, needed to be addressed,” said Bahr.

The legislation’s supporters include the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Bahr is optimistic that HB 2042 will have enough support to get through the Senate if that body chooses to move it before the session ends in May.

“The few senators I’ve talked to about the bill, like the representatives, have all supported the fact that this issue needs to be addressed, and so I don’t think there’s going to be any difficulty getting the bill through the because of the merits of the bill,” said Bahr

Representative Mark Ellebracht (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

The bill’s broad bipartisan support includes Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht, who said lawmakers and the public are seeing now that the registry has been in place for years, what needs to be changed about it.

“Fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, it was all pretty new stuff.  We had the idea, we knew it was a good idea, we just didn’t know how the machinery was going to work.  Now we’re getting the bugs worked out, we’re getting the kinks worked out, figuring out what’s just under the law and what may have been a little heavy-handed, figuring out what we can continue to do to keep children and families safe, and we’re perfecting a good idea over time,” said Ellebracht.

Ellebracht believes there are potential constitutional issues with the legislation that will have to be addressed in the Senate, but he supports the concepts in the bill, including an amendment that broadens prohibitions on sex offenders participating in Halloween-related events.

“We’ve been having a problem with folks that are on the sex offender registry being prohibited from participating in Halloween-related activities on October 31, but on the Saturdays prior to when families go to their Trunk-or-Treats, they weren’t restricted and we had creeps showing up at various family events on the weekends prior to Halloween, so we cleaned up that language so we could keep them away from that stuff too,” said Ellebracht.

The bill also requires anyone on the registry who is convicted of child molestation in the first degree to be electronically monitored if he or she moves to a different county or city not within a county until that move is completed.

The Senate has referred the bill to its committee on Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence.

Earlier story:  

Missouri house considering reform of state’s sex offender registry

HB 2042 would also broaden background checks on childcare workers.  It includes the same language found in House Bill 2249, which has also been sent to the Senate.

See our story on HB 2249 by clicking here.

Missouri House votes to extend child care worker background checks

The Missouri House of Representatives has voted to increase protection for children in the state’s childcare facilities by broadening background checks on those facilities’ workers.

Representative David Wood (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Versailles Republican David Wood told his House colleagues the state is not conducting background checks including fingerprints of those who come from out of state and apply to be childcare providers.

“We want to make sure our children in Missouri are safe.  When you have a childcare provider and currently a fingerprint background check is not required so we’re only checking inside the state, so we could have a violent offender coming from another state crossing in and working in our childcare facilities … this is just a good safety issue for children,” said Wood.

Wood said his House Bill 2249 would put Missouri in compliance with federal regulations.  Missouri is currently operating under a federal waiver, and once that expires on September 30, Missouri will lose about $5-million in federal grant money.

Unless and until it passes, he said parents don’t have much ability to know the background of those workers taking care of their children.

“These smaller providers actually have more restrictions than the larger ones do.  They do the fingerprint background checks, but those that are receiving state money and federal money in the state of Missouri aren’t required to right now, so this fixes that,” said Wood.

Applicants undergoing background checks would be allowed to work in child care facilities while the check is being conducted, but could not be left with children unsupervised during that time.  A worker would have to undergo a new check every five years.

The bill’s requirements would not apply to facilities not getting state or federal money, to those taking care of children within three degrees of relation to themselves, or those who have four or fewer children in their care.

The House voted 131-4 to send HB 2249 to the Senate.  The same language is included in another bill, House Bill 2042, which has also been sent to the Senate.

The language of HB 2249 is also found in House Bill 2042, which reforms the sex offender registry.

See our story on HB 2042 by clicking here.