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Bill's aim: No more cases like Jessica's

The House measure tightens registration rules for sex criminals and creates an offender database.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE and ANITA KUMAR
Published September 15, 2005

WASHINGTON - The Children's Safety Act of 2005, a bill aimed at tightening registration requirements for sex offenders and predators as well as creating a national database of offenders, passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday.

The bill, approved by a vote of 371 to 52, incorporated pieces of earlier legislation named in memory of two slain Florida girls, Jessica Lunsford and Carlie Brucia. The suspect in each killing is a registered sex offender or predator.

Included in the legislation are provisions to strengthen reporting requirements for offenders, increase penalties for repeat offenders and require probation officers to be notified of sexual offenses committed by their parolees. Legislators also approved a pilot program for electronic monitoring of offenders and created a national sex offender web site.

"We keep better track of our library books than we do child predators," said Rep. Mike Foley, R-West Palm Beach, who introduced the bill in May. "Those who break such a sacred trust and prey on our children - no matter who they are, where they are from or where they commit their crime - should have to make their whereabouts known or be subject to additional jail time and other penalties."

Most of the Florida delegation - including Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Crystal River; Jim Davis, D-Tampa; C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores; Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs; and Adam Putnam, R-Bartow - voted for the bill.

After Jessica's death, Brown-Waite proposed the Jessica Lunsford Act, which called for a national database of sex offenders and predators as well as stricter guidelines for how often law enforcement officials are required to check the whereabouts of offenders.

John Couey, the 46-year-old sex offender accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Jessica, had moved from his registered residence to a home within sight of Jessica's family's Homosassa home without law enforcement's knowledge.

Since his daughter's death, Mark Lunsford has lobbied both state and national politicians for changes in sex offender registration and monitoring requirements.

"(Better monitoring) actually prevents sex offenders from committing these crimes," he said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said that the law was in response to a "national crisis" in child sex offenses and that the whereabouts of 100,000 of the 550,000 convicted sex offenders in the nation are unknown.

Earlier this year, Mark Lunsford advocated for statewide legislation to change sex offender laws. His efforts helped bring about Florida's Jessica Lunsford Act, which was signed into law May 2 by Gov. Jeb Bush.

That law includes provisions such as electronic tracking of sex offenders on probation, increased prison time for child molestation and mandatory use of the state's sex offender database by local probation officials.

"I know that for the past nine months Florida residents have seen firsthand the damage and heartache that comes from sexual predators and sexual offenders preying on our most innocent of victims, our children," Brown-Waite said in a statement released Wednesday.

"Congress has moved in a swift and appropriate manner to help ensure that the memories of Jessica Lunsford, Sarah Lunde and the thousands of other children harmed by sexual predators will be honored and remembered."

Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Sarasota, who is running for U.S. Senate, authored "Carlie's Law" in memory of Carlie Brucia, a Sarasota girl killed in 2004.

"While passage of this legislation will do nothing to bring back Carlie Brucia and other children who have been brutally murdered by predators, it can save other families the anguish of losing a child to the most unthinkable of violent acts," Harris said.

Parts of Carlie's Law - including a harsher probation and sentencing guidelines and a national sex offender registry - were incorporated in the Children's Safety Act of 2005.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up a similar version of the bill later this year and move the bill to the full Senate, which is expected to pass it.

--Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 352860-7312 or vansickle@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 15, 2005, 01:06:09]


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