Bills

Sex offender registry bill revived after stalling in committee

SACRAMENTO — With five days remaining in the legislative session, a San Francisco lawmaker revived a bill that would end lifetime registration for most sex offenders after the original bill stalled in a committee.

Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB421 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee without a public vote two weeks ago after it passed four committees and the Senate. On Thursday, Wiener used a maneuver known as gut-and-amend to bring it back. Gut-and-amend is a long-used process loathed by some good government groups in which the contents of an active bill are dumped and replaced with those of a dead bill. The move can be used to bypass a committee that refuses to pass a particular bill.

In this case, Wiener gutted one of his bills — SB384 — and put in the language for the sex offender registry bill. SB384 was originally a bill that would have given cities the option of extending bar hours to 4 a.m., but the legislation was watered down in the Assembly to the point that Wiener was willing to sacrifice it to push forward with the sex offender registry overhaul.

Now, the sex offender registry bill can move forward this session. It would face even tougher odds next session — 2018 is an election year, which means lawmakers generally avoid controversial subjects.

The revived sex offender bill now faces a tight deadline to pass this year. The Legislature has until Friday to pass bills on to Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Law enforcement and rape crisis advocates are telling us that the current sex offender registry is broken and that this proposed reform will make us safer,” Wiener said.

The bill would allow most sex offenders to be removed from the registry 10 to 20 years after they are released from prison, as long as they have not committed another serious or violent felony or sex crime. Law enforcement and scholars have argued that California’s registry has become so large that officers and the public have trouble determining who is at high risk for re-offending. The registry has 100,000 sex offenders — meaning 1 in 400 Californians is on it.

It is estimated that the bill would cost the state Department of Justice, which oversees the registry, more than $70 million over the first six years to implement the changes. It is unclear how much savings the state would see from no longer having to monitor all sex offenders for life.

Critics of the bill said too many crimes were included in categories that allowed sex offenders to eventually come off the registry, including rape by force, rape of an unconscious person and lewd acts with a child. After amendments to the bill, people convicted of those crimes will still register as a sex offender for life, Wiener’s office said.

Supporters of the bill argued that research shows that the longer people are crime free, the less likely they are to re-offend, thus keeping sex offenders on the registry for decades does not reduce crime.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said the registry overhaul has been a long time coming to fix “an antiquated, ineffective 70-year-old system.”

“This proposed law will better protect the public from sexual predators by enabling law enforcement to focus on those who have committed the most serious sexual assault crimes and who pose the greatest danger of recidivism,” said O’Malley, who chairs California’s Sex Offender Management Board.

Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mgutierrez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez

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