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MEETING ON SEX-OFFENDER BILL IS YAWNER

SHARE MEETING ON SEX-OFFENDER BILL IS YAWNER

Either people are sick of talking about it or everyone agrees on the new bill aimed at repealing minimum mandatory prison terms for sex offenders.

At a crowded meeting of the Legislature's Judicary Committee, only one person from the public asked to speak to lawmakers, and he liked the proposed bill. His only plea was to ask officials to do more with juvenile sex offenders.Legislators had questions but not enough to even fill the three hours allotted to discuss the bill, which does away with mandatory minimum prison terms but not mandatory imprisonment for sex offenders.

The bill was presented by three members of the sentencing commission, who listened to hours of public input in drafting the lengthy and complicated piece of legislation.

"I've been working on this for a year, and I still find it confusing," said Paul Boyden, member of the sentencing commission and head of the State Wide Prosecutors Association.

Boyden said the proposed bill allows the system to deal with the anomalous case. Instead of minimum prison time that's mandatory, it will be recommended. Boyden noted that 77 percent of those sent to prison under minimum mandatories were still serving their sentences and had no parole date.

"Frankly, we don't expect that to change one iota," he said. "It's a legal circuit breaker for the system."

He added that not being able to deal with the extraordinary case is "a tragedy."

Some of the more dramatic differences are in other areas of the law. The bill creates a category of attempted offenses that are still first degree felonies and have a possibility of life in prison. Most second degree felonies have a maximum prison term of 15 years.

That, Boyden said, would allow prosecutors to have more leverage in plea bargains. About 85 percent of cases in the country are resolved through plea negotiations, Boyden said.

One thing many supported in discusions of sex offenses was mandatory treatment. The problem is money.

Right now only one-third of the state's sex offenders are able to enroll in the prison's sex offender treatment program. There are waiting lists for every phase of every program at the prison, officials said.