By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
July 27, 2005
Rep. Patti Smith wants to lock sexual predators up for a minimum of 25 years — and better track their whereabouts once they re-enter society.
This week Smith presented House Bill 3507 to her elected peers and was pleased that the legislation immediately gained strong bipartisan support. She is hopeful that, even late in the 2005-06 biennium session, her proposal can become law.
“Our laws are relatively lacking when compared with the penalties in other states. There have been a lot of high-profile crimes by sexual predators in the news lately and I want to be proactive and make sure that Oregon doesn’t have to name a law for a victim someday. This is really from my heart,” said Smith, R-Corbett, whose district includes Hood River County.
She had HB 3507 drafted so that is closely resembled the Florida law already in effect. Her bill triples the mandatory minimum sentence for adults who victimize children, ages 12 and under, by committing first-degree rape, sodomy or sexual penetration. Smith is seeking to get perpetrators off the street by increasing their prison time from 100 months to 300 months. She said murder carries the same penalty and the harm done by sexual predators is just as harmful to society as a whole. She does not want any reduction in the minimum sentence for “good time.”
“We need to send a clear message that Oregon has zero tolerance for sexual predators,” said Smith. “Some say it’s late in the session to start new legislation, but I think this issue is just too important to wait for.”
Gloria Needham, director of Hood River County’s crime victims advocate program, fully supports Smith’s move to protect children.
“Sexual assault is just a horrific kind of crime and I, too, feel strongly that it should be up there with the sanctions for murder,” said Needham. “This crime not only affects the victim and his/her family, but the perpetrator’s family as well. Plus, it traumatizes the entire community and, with so many people hurt, I believe that zero tolerance is a good idea.”
Katie Muirden, a probation officer with the Hood River Community Justice Department, believes that sex offender treatment should also be given more legislative attention. She is aware of the state’s budget constraints in recent years but would like to see funding restored to put rehabilitation programs back into prisons.
“We hear about all these high-profile sex offenders out there. But the majority of these crimes are committed by (an uncle or grandpa) who get caught, go through treatment and then, statistically, don’t re-offend,” she said.
Smith agrees that sex offenders who can be treated should be given that opportunity. She said the legislature has years after HB 3507 becomes law to address that issue since predators can then be locked up. She said more money also needs to be found in order to monitor sexual predators once they are freed back into the mainstream population. But the first step, according to Smith, is to make sure that the state’s youngest citizens are protected from “very sick people.”
“Yes, we need to come up with whatever funding is necessary for public safety. But this was one aspect of the problem that we could address now. We can make sure there is tough punishment for the true sexual predator who is never going to be helped by treatment,” Smith said.