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Utah House OKs changes to sex-offender registry

Published February 7, 2012 12:34 pm

HB13 • Bill would clear the way for some to have their names removed.
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The Utah House on Tuesday unanimously passed a measure Tuesday that would allow some people stuck on the sex-offender registry for the least egregious crimes to petition their way off the list.

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, proposed HB13 as a way to provide hope for those seeking a chance at redemption for a past mistake. Several lawmakers emphasized, however, that the change would include a variety of safeguards for victims and that it would apply only to a narrow list of those on the registry.

It would apply only to sex offenses when the minor is 16 or 17 years old and the criminal could not be more than 10 years older than the victim. Five years would have had to pass since the original offense. The bill also would require that the person couldn't have committed a crime — excluding traffic offenses — and victims would have the right to object to the request from removal.

Draxler used an example of a couple who had engaged in sex when the man was 19 and the girl was 15. He said they are now married and have four children, but because the man was convicted of having sex with a minor, he's unable to attend parent-teacher conferences and cannot go to the park to watch his kids play.

"I'm not trying to say every one of the violations are of this nature," Draxler said. "But this is the kind of thing this bill is trying to address."

The measure had been worked for more than a year, eventually winning endorsements from several victims' rights groups and prosecutorial groups.

Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, said the bill was "one of the most important" ones he would vote on this session.

"What do we do with these folks for the rest of their lives?" McIff asked. "If they're a threat, we want that known. But if not, we end up with people who have a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, and we have no ability to reabsorb them."

Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, expressed fear about some offenders who deserve to remain on the registry slipping through the cracks and getting off the list.

He ultimately supported the bill, but offered a cautionary note for fellow lawmakers.

"We, as representatives, make these decisions up here and it's the kid, the child that suffers the consequences if the system fails," he said. "Or if we've erred in a way where we haven't been able to capture everything we think we've seen."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero