Series of sex offender bills approved; child porn now a sex offense

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Child pornographers will now be categorized as sex offenders, under a measure passed Friday in the House.

The bill is among several sex offender measures passed in both chambers as the Legislature hurries to finish its work before the session ends next Thursday.

Nearly 50 sex offender bills were introduced this session. Seven passed Friday, of which three will be sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire. The remainder still must pass another round of votes in the opposite chamber.

The bills passed Friday put tighter restrictions on sex offenders, make it easier for police to throw offenders back in jail and take aim at child porn.

The House passed the child porn bill, which increases the penalties for watching, creating or possessing child porn, or trying to lure children into sex conversations online or over the phone.

The measure would also designate possession of child porn as a sex offense. That means people convicted of possessing child pornography would now have to register as sex offenders, and abide by the conditions that go along with registration, such as community supervision.

It now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

"We're going to take a good step in this state," said Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. "Porn can be extremely harmful in the wrong hands."

Two House bills limited where sex offenders may go. One prohibits repeat sex offenders from living close to schools, another prohibits them from going to parks, playgrounds, swimming pools or community centers. Both of those bills now head back to the Senate.

Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, said he wants the longest possible community protection zone — miles from any population center.

"Get those dudes out in the middle of the wheat fields, and a lot of people like to do bird hunting," he said. "Do I make myself clear?"

Another House bill adds prison time if prosecutors can prove criminals had the intent to commit a sex crime but were arrested while committing another crime. For example, if someone is arrested for burglary but was intending to rape the victim, the defendant could face two additional years in prison. That bill now goes to Gregoire.

The House will take up a Senate bill passed Friday that allows sex-crime victims to provide testimony to parole boards considering the release of sex offenders.

The Senate passed two additional sex offender bills that go to the governor.

One prohibits sex offenders from providing sex offender treatment; the other makes it easier for the Department of Social and Health Services to call in police to help if a sex offender in DSHS custody may be breaking the rules.

Lawmakers took up the sex offender legislation after the arrest of Joseph Edward Duncan III, a former Tacoma resident and convicted sex offender now charged with three counts of murder in Idaho. Duncan has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities allege Duncan killed three members of a Coeur d'Alene-area family last May so he could kidnap two children for sex. The girl was recovered alive with Duncan seven weeks later, but her brother was killed, authorities said.

While there was widespread support for the bills, some lawmakers expressed concern.

Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, cautioned that the bills provide a false sense of security.

"It's a knee jerk reaction to a very serious problem," she said.