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Nixon blasts effort to override veto of bill removing teens from state sex-offender list

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has accused some legislators – and notably House Speaker Tim Jones – of seeking to making Missouri “a safe haven’’ for young sex offenders if they follow through with an effort to override his veto of a bill to remove sex offenders under the age of 18 from law enforcement sex-offender websites.

Nixon called the bill in question, House Bill 301, a "dangerous bill'' that threatens public safety.

“By immediately removing hundreds of criminals from sexual offender notification websites, without regard to the seriousness of their offense, House Bill 301 would undermine public safety and weaken victims’ rights,” Nixon said at a news conference Wednesday at St. Louis police headquarters, where he was flanked by a couple dozen area law enforcement officers and police chiefs.

Those in attendance included St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch.

The event also featured large photos of convicted teen sex offenders, including some who also had been convicted of murder and other crimes.

“This legislation would also deny local prosecutors and victims of these horrible crimes the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed,” the governor said. “The leadership of the House may be ready to help violent sex offenders hide from the public and law enforcement, but their victims, and the millions of Missourians who use these websites to help keep their families safe, are not.”

Nixon said that the state website alone gets more than 4 million “hits” a year, adding that people use it to find out if their neighbors, hired help or potential babysitters have a record as a sex offender.

The governor added that he was mystified why Jones, R-Eureka, and some other Republican legislative leaders would considering overriding his veto during the veto session that begins Sept. 11.

Jones could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Jones has said publicly that HB 301 is “ripe’’ for an override, with state Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, telling reporters that public safety would not be endangered if teen-aged sex offenders are removed from the rolls.

Nixon, however, pointly downplayed the assertion of some of the bill’s supporters that it would help young offenders involved in what the governor called “Romeo and Juliet crimes.’’ Those are crimes in which both the victim and the assailant are teens and the sexual encounter was alleged to be consensual.

Nixon said such incidents were “rare’’ and that judges often take such matters into consideration during sentencing.

He added that adequate procedures already exist for someone to get his name off the list, after a specified number of years and an otherwise clean record. HB 301 would allow those listed to get their names off the list after five years.

Nixon said that if his veto is overridden, House Bill 301 ”would remove an estimated 870 individuals who committed a sex offense as a juvenile  (under 18) from the state and county sexual offender notification websites, and prevent any such individual from being placed on these websites in the future.”

“This legislation would remove these juvenile sex offenders from the public notification websites regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted, including forcible rape, forcible sodomy, and child molestation,” he said.

“Even if the offender had multiple victims and multiple convictions, the court would be required to grant the petition so long as the offender was not currently under supervision or was adjudicated for failure to register and without being able to consider if the offender successfully completed any court required treatment,” the governor continued. “House Bill 301 would also prevent the victims of the crime or their families from having any input into the offender’s removal from the registry.

“I do not believe that supporters of this legislation meant for its ramifications to go this far," Nixon concluded. "That’s why after a very thorough and careful review of this legislation in its entirety, I communicated my concerns in my veto message to the legislature last month....We owe it to the crime victims and their families to ensure this dangerous bill does not become law.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.