Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Final deal on Jessica's Law could keep families from reporting pedophiles

One of the most contentious issues of the 80th Texas Legislature is nearing its denouement - the House-Senate conference committee came out yesterday with its final compromise between the chambers on HB 8 or "Jessica's Law," which increases penalties including death penalty for second offender child rapists.

Here's the official side-by-side to let you know what precisely got into the bill from the House and Senate versions.

Emily Ramshaw at the Dallas News got a preview of the compromise, and reported on the bill's final provisions over the weekend ("Deal reached on sex offender bill," 5-12):

A first conviction for raping a child under 6 would come with a mandatory 25-year minimum sentence, as would cases against youths between age 7 and 14 that involve a weapon, bodily harm or kidnapping.

The legislation also creates a new charge – continuous sexual abuse of a child – to punish habitual child-sex offenders. Though the House version of the bill would've made that crime eligible for capital punishment on a second conviction, under the compromise, it would carry a 25-year minimum sentence.

That provision was tweaked in conference committee to include people charged with indecency with a child who have had contact skin-to-skin or below the waist. It also adds a five-year "Romeo" clause to protect a 17-year-old boy with a 13-year-old girlfriend from being put away for 25 years.

I've made the arguments against the most unwise portions of this bill so often it's pointless to rehash them now except to say this: I predict the 25 year mandatory minimum first offense will be reduced by a future Texas Legislature soon after the first instance discovered where a family did not turn in a pedophilia case involving a young child because of stiff first-time sentences. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so.

As Steve Hall reported on the StandDown blog, "Both chambers will have to ratify the conference committee's recommendation. That could happen this week, the bill would then go to the governor for his signature. Because it was designated as emergency legislation HB 8 will become law once it is signed by Governor Perry."

See prior Grits coverage of this legislation:

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