Senate Works to Better Protect Kids from Sex Offenders

Senate Works to Better Protect Kids from Sex Offenders

Sweeping Bill Adds Protections, Expands Sex Offender Registry, Increases Penalties for Sex Crimes, and Bans Sex Offenders from Halloween Festivities

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Jefferson City — The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval today to Senate Bill 714, sponsored by Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, which would expand information included in the state’s sex offender registry, strengthen the severity of charges for sex crimes or attempted sex crimes against children, and provide more buffers and protections for kids from sexual predators.

“Our kids have the right to the fullest protection available from people who would harm them through sexual exploitation,” Loudon said. “These changes to current law will expand our ability to identify, keep tabs on, and punish those sexual offenders who live or set foot in Missouri and serve to confirm our reputation for creating and enacting tough laws that keep our state as one of the safest places for kids.”

Under the proposed legislation, co-sponsored by Senate Leader Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, and strengthened by recommendations from Missouri’s first-ever Summit for Online Child Exploitation coordinated by Sen. Loudon late last year, more information will be added to the sex offender registry, including online identifying information of any registered sex offenders and the names of juveniles found guilty of certain sexual crimes. The Highway Patrol will have the authority to share the online information with electronic and computer businesses to prescreen users and compare information. Such information will also be made available to the public through specific searches using the online identifier.

“Our kids deserve to be safe whether they are playing in a park or surfing the web,” Gibbons said. “The best way to keep them safe is with prevention. Having online identifying information up front will better help parents and teachers protect their children online, and give law enforcement better tools to catch cyber predators in the act.”

In addition, the proposed changes will require any person whose name is on a sex offender registry in another state who attends any public or private school in Missouri (for seven days or more per year) to provide information to the registry. The law also adds the crime of conspiring to commit certain sexual offenses to the list of crimes for which a person must register.

The comprehensive bill also shortens the amount of time convicted sex offenders have to register with law enforcement officials. They must register within three days of their conviction, release from incarceration, or placement on probation. If the person lists an out-of-state address, the registration information will be forwarded to the Highway Patrol. Sex offenders must also provide palm prints, a DNA sample and be photographed. They can no longer supply their own photos.

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SEX OFFENDER CRIME BILL

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In an amendment, senators voted to ban sex offenders from participating in all Halloween festivities related to children. They must stay inside their residence from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., post a sign at their residence stating there’s no treats there and make sure all outside lighting is off, so as not to lure any children to their home who are trick-or-treating.

Another major component elevates the penalty for attempted sexual misconduct with a child to a Class D felony — the same penalty for committing sexual misconduct with a child. Similarly, anyone who attempts to furnish pornographic materials to a minor will be charged the same penalty as those who furnish the materials — a Class A misdemeanor. The penalty still applies if the “minor” is a police officer masquerading as a minor.

Stiffer penalties are also included for possession of child pornography, which will be considered a Class C felony or Class B felony, depending on previous offenses and other circumstances. Under the provisions, those convicted of promoting child pornography will be ineligible for probation or parole for at least three years.

Another key measure of the legislation broadens the admissibility of testimony in court of children under age 14 involved in child pornography cases. Other provisions include expanding the list of violators prohibited from being within 500 feet of schools or child-care facilities to include offenders from other states, countries or jurisdictions.

In addition, the new measures will increase the penalty for failing to register as a sex offender.

The legislation will create the Cyber Crimes Investigation Fund. The new fund will provide $3 million per year for the existing Internet Cyber Crimes Grant (ICCG) program, a very successful program that provides money for local law enforcement and multi-jurisdictional task forces to hire cyber detectives and computer forensic personnel to go after Internet predators and child pornographers

“Children are precious gifts and they deserve to be safe in their homes, schools and neighborhoods,” Loudon said. “These measures will provide law enforcement officials with more means for protecting our children and significantly increase their ability to keep these horrible offenders away from our children.”

The Senate must cast another approval vote before the bill advances to the House. To track the legislation visit www.senate.mo.gov and do a “key word” search for SB714.