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Chelsea's Law unanimously passes Assembly, moves forward to help protect children

RIVERSIDE - An Inland Empire lawmaker said yesterday he is seeking the Legislature's swift approval of four bills to bolster Chelsea's Law, the legislation to increase penalties for sex offenders approved by the Assembly on Thursday.

"I'm very pleased to see the unanimous passage of Chelsea's Law," said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Beaumont.

"This bill will help protect our children from predators. I believe that the bills I'm working on with Assemblyman Pedro Nava ... will take this protection a step further by helping law enforcement find missing children."

The Senate Public Safety Committee is expected to hold hearings on Chelsea's Law in the next two weeks. Among other things, the measure calls for a "one-strike" life sentence without parole for various sex crimes against children.

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, sponsored the legislation, AB 844, in the wake of the murders of 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway and 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido.

Both were raped and murdered by John Albert Gardner III, 31, who was sentenced to three consecutive life terms without parole last month. He was convicted of beating and molesting a child in 2000 and remains the prime suspect suspected in the attempted abduction of a Lake Elsinore girl in October 2009.

Cook said he and Nava have been communicating with the Dubois family about the types of changes needed in California's laws to prevent future sex-related crimes against children and ensure law enforcement has all available resources in place when a child is taken.

The lawmakers have jointly introduced Assembly bills 33, 34, 589 and 1022, which Cook urged his fellow lawmakers to support.

"The Dubois bills are essential to making sure that missing children are found in the most efficient way possible," he said. "These bills give us the best chance to recover a child safely and prevent new crimes from being committed." Under AB 33, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training would establish "minimum guidelines" for how law enforcement personnel handle missing person or runaway cases.

Municipal agencies could rely on the state standards or implement better ones, with the goal of law enforcement having, within two hours, "a list of all persons required to register as sex offenders residing within a five-mile radius from the place ... the child was believed to have been abducted."

AB 34 calls for the state's Violent Crime Information Center to release missing persons reports to nonprofit groups registered with the Attorney General's Office for the purpose of getting the word out as fast as possible about missing children.

Under existing law, the VCIC is only required to notify law enforcement agencies.

AB 589 would mandate that registered sex offenders carry driver's licenses or other state-issued identification cards that have a "distinctive color or a distinctively colored stripe" to denote the holder is a convicted sex offender.

Under AB 1022, the California Department of Justice would set up a "Missing Person Rapid Response Team" available to assist any local law enforcement agency with missing persons investigations on short notice.

The costs of the proposed legislation are projected to be nominal.

"With Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, we have two young women who will never be able to enjoy the fullness of life because we allowed a known sex offender to commit additional crimes, which resulted in their murders," Cook said.

"As legislators, we must commit to protecting future children from experiencing the same fate, especially by repeat offenders," he said.

The bills are slated for consideration in the Senate later this month.

No opponents to the proposals were listed by legislative analysts.

 

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