California Legislature Passes Equality California-Sponsored Bill to Reform Sex Offender Registry

The California Legislature late last week approved a bill to reform California’s sex offender registry, creating a tiered system that will make the registry a more effective tool for law enforcement and bring California’s system in line with the rest of the United States. SB 384 was authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Senators Joel Anderson (R- Alpine), Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The bill was sponsored by Equality California, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the California Sex Offender Management Board and was endorsed by the California Police Chiefs Association and various county sheriffs.

“This bill was written by law enforcement and supported by rape crisis advocates because they know we need a sex offender registry system that actually works to protect people from those who pose a significant risk of committing sexual violence,” said Sen. Wiener. “Our current registry system is broken and burdensome for law enforcement to use, and wastes resources by requiring law enforcement to monitor low-level offenders who pose little to no risk of committing any crime. The California Legislature took a big step forward towards to improve public safety and help our law enforcement agencies more effectively monitor violent sex offenders and better prevent sex crimes from happening in the future.”

Law enforcement officials wrote the sex offender reform legislation, with support from LGBTQ advocates, rape crisis advocates and criminal justice reform groups, to make the registry a more effective tool for monitoring high-risk sex offenders and solving sex crimes. California’s sex offender registry is so huge – more than 100,000 people or one in 400 Californians are on it – that the registry is basically useless to law enforcement. It contains many low level offenders and offenders who were convicted decades ago and now present little or no risk, including LGBTQ people who found themselves on the registry for same-sex behavior that is no longer criminalized.

California is one of only four states in which all sex offenders, ranging from sexually violent predators to people caught having sex in the park, are treated the same with lifetime registration. SB 384 creates a tiered registry, with high-risk offenders on the registry for life and others able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without reoffending, depending on the offense.

“Over the years, thousands of LGBTQ people have found themselves unfairly included on California’s sex offender registry, sometimes for something as innocent as a same-sex kiss,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “Many were victims of law enforcement policies that consciously targeted and entrapped gay men. Our laws have changed for the better, but California’s universal lifetime sex offender registry has not, and many are still included who hurt no one and who would not be placed on the registry today. It’s time to remove them and to restore the registry’s usefulness as a tool for investigating those who pose a real danger to society.”

Currently, California is one of only four states, together with Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina, that maintain a lifetime registration requirement for all convicted sex offenders. By treating all sex offenders alike, regardless of offense, California has bloated its own system, which inhibits law enforcement’s capability to effective protect the community. Law enforcement responsible for policing sex offenders estimates that 60 percent of officers’ time is spent on monthly or annual paperwork for low risk offenders, which is time spent at the expense of being active in the community monitoring high-risk offenders. SB 384 would remove these people from the registry.

SB 384 establishes a tiered system for all sex offenders:

  • Tier 1: Registration for 10 years for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies
  • Tier 2: Registration for 20 years for serious or violent sex offenses
  • Tier 3: Registration for life for high risk offenders including but not limited to sexually violent offenders, repeat violent offenders, and sex offenses requiring a life term.

Removal from the registry for offenders in Tiers 1 and 2 is not automatic. Each registrant must petition the court for removal from the registry at the end of the designated registration period, and the court can deny termination and the District Attorney may request a hearing to oppose any petition for removal.

SB 384 now moves to the Governor’s desk.

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Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org