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Assemblyman Cook's "Chelsea's Law" clears first hurdle

RIVERSIDE - An Inland Empire lawmaker's bill to ensure law enforcement officials have comprehensive procedures in place to investigate missing persons cases cleared its first hurdle in the state Senate, it was announced today.

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Beaumont, joined Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D- Santa Barbara, in authoring AB 33, which was approved 7-0 by the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

The legislation was initiated at the request of the father of 14-year- old Amber Dubois of Escondido, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and slain by John Albert Gardner III last year.

Gardner, a convicted sex offender, was sentenced in May to three consecutive life terms without parole for murdering Amber and 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway.

Cook and Nava introduced AB 33 to bolster ''Chelsea's Law,'' unanimously passed by the Assembly earlier this month and now under consideration in the Senate. Among other things, it proposes lifetime parole for individuals who commit the most serious sex crimes.

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 officers having a checklist laying out the steps necessary to conduct a comprehensive investigation.

''AB 33 changes the way law enforcement agencies use resources when searching for a missing person,'' Cook said. ''This bill is finally putting policies in place for law enforcement agencies so that they can locate missing children more efficiently in the very early hours of an investigation.''

The legislation would also require that the California Department of Justice provide a city or county, within two hours, with a list of possible suspects during a missing persons investigation, using the Megan's Law sex offender database and other resources.

''When the state already has the resources to aid in a missing child's case, this bill becomes absolutely necessary to maximize our ability to find the missing child,'' Cook said. ''A case like Amber's should never happen again, so I hope this bill can continue to find support in the Senate.''

The bill is slated for a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is also expected to hold hearings on two other bills jointly introduced by Cook and Nava -- AB 34 and AB 1022.

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.

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.


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