Missouri legislature proposes reform of state’s sex offender registry

A bill that aims to strengthen Missouri’s sex offender registry, and give some sex offenders a better chance at rehabilitation, was one of the bills passed out of the legislature on Friday in the final hours of its regular session.

Representative Kurt Bahr sponsored language to reform Missouri’s sex offender registry. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Language that was part of Senate Bill 655 would have Missouri’s registry mirror the federal system.  It would break that registry into three tiers based on the severity of sex-related offenses.  Individuals guilty of the least serious offenses would go on the first tier and could petition the courts to be removed from the registry ten years after being put on it.  Those on the second tier would be guilty of more serious offenses and could petition for removal after 25 years.  The third tier is for those guilty of the most heinous sex offenses, who must remain on the registry for life.  Those who commit additional sex crimes or other felonies while already on the registry also would not be eligible to be removed.

The House handler of SB 655, St. Charles representative Kurt Bahr (R), said there are so many people on Missouri’s sex offender registry, for all levels of crimes, that it waters down the meaning of the list.

“By shrinking the list a little bit it adds value to the list,” said Bahr.

Bahr said in its current form, the list treats people guilty of crimes like rape and sexual assault the same as it treats those guilty of offenses such as urinating in public.

“The list, as it grows, ceases to be as effective for public safety because if you simply see a name on the list you don’t know if they are a true problem – a possible rapist of somebody who’s molested children – or if they’re somebody who had a non-contact offense that’s still deemed a sex crime,” said Bahr.  “Aside from creating the tiers it also makes the list reflect the level that the offender is as well as what their offense was.”

Bahr said the ability for an offender to come off of the registry can decrease the likelihood that he or she will reoffend.

“There are three major factors for an offender to repeat offend.  Those three factors are lack of housing, lack of jobs, and lack of social interactions.  A person on the list has a hard time finding housing – a lot of apartment complexes don’t want to rent to anybody on the list; finding jobs becomes difficult because again a lot of businesses don’t want to hire anybody on the list; and if you can’t live or work anywhere near friends or family then you become socially ostracized as well, so there is definitely a very significant social cost to somebody on the list that would lend to somebody becoming a repeat offender,” said Bahr.  “Allowing somebody who’s not a violent sex offender to be able to get their life in order and to go get off the list will allow them to become a more productive member of society.”

The proposed registry updates have the support of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  Bahr said law enforcement was also supportive.

Bahr is glad to see the proposal passed out of the legislature before the end of this year – his last in the House due to term limits.

“It’s an issue that people don’t like to talk about, but still an issue that is important and needs to be dealt with,” said Bahr.

The House voted on Friday, the final day of the regular session, to pass SB 655, 135-3.

The bill’s other provisions include one that would remove the statute of limitations in cases of sex crimes against children, and one that would set the minimum age to get married in Missouri at 16.  Bahr hopes having all those provisions together improves the chance that the bill will be signed into law by Governor Eric Greitens.

Governor Greitens could sign SB 655 into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without taking any action on it.

Earlier stories:  

Missouri House proposes reform of sex offender registry

Missouri House considering reform of state’s sex offender registry

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 considering reform of state’s sex offender registry

A bill that would give some sex offenders an opportunity to be removed from the sex offender registry is being considered by the Missouri House.

      The legislation would mirror the federal system which classifies offenders into three tiers based on their offenses:  less-serious offenses result in an offender being 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 cannot be removed.

The sponsor of House Bill 2042, St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr, said providing a way for those guilty of less serious crimes to come off the registry would improve its quality.

“If you have someone in your neighborhood who’s on the list, you don’t know if they are a rapist or if they were drunk and they were peeing in public and now they’re a tier one offender,” said Bahr.  “If we can clean the list off of those people who have minor offenses then the list becomes more helpful because now you can say if this person’s on the list then they’re likely to be more worrisome.”

Bahr said offering some offenders a way off of the registry will also afford them a better chance of building a life and not committing more crimes.

“The signs of somebody likely to reoffend – not just in a sexual offense – but any criminal to reoffend is an issue of if they do not have a job, if they do not have housing, and if they do not have social interaction with others … and this list makes it harder for people to have a job, harder to have housing and harder to interact in society,” said Bahr.  “The public list makes it harder, especially for guys who are not likely to be reoffenders.”

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

Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Litigation Darrell Moore told the House Committee on the Judiciary that creating this petition process would ensure that the Highway Patrol and the Attorney General’s Office know when someone is trying to get off the registry.

He said with no mechanism in place for getting off the registry offenders who haven’t reached the federal 10- or 25-year thresholds are suing to be removed.  When that happens the Patrol and Attorney General’s Office aren’t notified until cases have been resolved, at which time the Attorney General must file motions to re-litigate the case.

Representative Kurt Bahr (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Right now we have prosecutors unfortunately, and judges, entering judgments letting people off the registry that should not be off the registry,” Moore said.

Bahr said he became familiar with the issue and filed the legislation because he has a family member who is on the registry for what would be considered a tier one offense.

“I really didn’t know about the issue before that and then after that occurred I looked into it and saw that this particular person was going to be on the list for life, and what he did was wrong and stupid but not something that anybody would think should be a lifetime punishment,” said Bahr.  “Because of that I learned about the issue and saw the lack of justice in the fact that you have a growing number of people on these tier one or tier two who have no hope of having a more meaningful life because they are barred from polite society.  Because of that – because this list continues to grow and more and more people know somebody on the list – the effectiveness of the list decreases.”

Another provision of the bill creates a second trial stage to determine whether an individual convicted of a sex crime should be considered a predatory sexual offender.  The bill specifies that such offenders would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The process laid out by HB 2042 specifies that the family of any victim of an offender would be notified when that offender petitions for removal from the registry.  That family would have an opportunity to respond to the petition.  The bill is also written so that people who committed crimes outside the state could not petition in Missouri to be removed from the registry.

Attempts in past years to make changes to Missouri’s registry include one that reached the desk of then-governor Nixon, who vetoed it.  Bahr notes his bill is substantially different from that one.

The committee is expected to vote next week on HB 2042.  From there it faces another committee who could vote to send it to the full House for debate.

Additional audio:

Bahr said learning that he knows someone who is on the sex offender registry gave him a new perspective.

“Once you recognize that these offenders are real people too, and that while we can acknowledge what they did was wrong we can also acknowledge that they should not be punished to the same level as someone who committed a crime far more severe,” said Bahr.  “When it became more of a personal interest I looked into it and recognized the flaws in the system that we currently have and how we can make that system better both for the prosecutors and the public and those who have committed a crime but are working on being rehabilitated.”