Effective tools needed to protect our children

  • By Rob McKenna and Val Stevens
  • Saturday, February 18, 2006 9:00pm
  • Opinion

Any parent who has seen the news stories about alleged kidnapper and child rapist Joseph Duncan knows the bone-chilling fear of thinking, “What if that happened to my family? What if a violent sexual predator stalked my children and destroyed their innocence – or worse, took their lives?”

Nothing is more frightening to a parent than the possibility that their child might be preyed upon. We can no longer take our children’s safety for granted.

That’s why we are supporting a multi-faceted solution to the sex offender threat. And that’s why we were so disappointed to read the highly charged and inaccurate accusations of Monroe City Council member Mitch Ruth in last Sunday’s Herald.

Based on the recommendations of the Attorney General’s Sexually Violent Predator Unit, and after close consultation with law enforcement, prosecutors and victims’ advocates, we proposed legislation that helps keep kids and communities safer by getting tougher on sex offenders and giving law enforcement and others the tools they need to keep known sex predators away from our children.

Two of the proposals in our package of bills work in tandem to provide strong, consistent and constitutionally sound protection for children and families in communities across Washington.

The first measure, discussed in last Sunday’s news article, prohibits child rapists, molesters and serial predators from living within two city blocks, or 880 feet, from a public or private school statewide. This law was set to expire this year. However, we joined with others and have introduced legislation that would allow this law to continue in effect.

This law pre-empts other local ordinances, but does so to avoid court challenges and to protect one community from inheriting sex offenders pushed out of another. The need for state preemption on this issue was included in the December 2005 recommendations of the Legislature’s Joint Task Force on Sex Offender Management, a group that included legislators, law enforcement and victims’ groups.

The second measure adds another layer of protection by allowing personnel at community centers, public swimming pools, parks – or any public or private facility where children are educated, cared for or play – to bar Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from coming onto the property. Any violation will result in prosecution for the new felony crime of criminal trespass against children.

Taken together, these two bills provide serious, comprehensive statewide protection for our children – arguably stronger than any existing local ordinance.

Mr. Ruth claims these statewide standards prevent local communities from approving tougher standards. He then draws the conclusion that this makes us “soft on sex offenders.”

On the contrary, these new laws taken together are arguably tougher than the existing Monroe standards – and, even more important, they will stand up to court challenges.

In the meantime, the state Department of Social and Health Services is challenging Monroe’s residency restrictions before the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board and those standards could very possibly be overturned, sending the Monroe City Council back to the drawing board.

That’s exactly the kind of situation we’re trying to prevent. The statewide pre-emption allows every community in our state to enjoy equal protection against the threat of predatory sex offenders. It also allows them greater protection against legal challenges by taking into consideration previous laws and ordinances that have been found unconstitutional.

While we continue to work to make Washington a safer place for children and families, parents should always remain vigilant and never let themselves get lulled into a false sense of security. Laws and ordinances can only go so far. No legal protection can be more effective in protecting our children than a parent’s watchful eye.

Rob McKenna is Washington’s attorney general. Sen. Val Stevens (R-Arlington) represents the 39th Legislative District, which includes Monroe.

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