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HOUSE GETS TOUGH WITH SEX OFFENDERS

The House moved forcefully to make life tougher for sex offenders as well as violent criminals who victimize children, the elderly and the disabled. It passed bills that would let neighbors know who sex offenders are and put some in prison for life without parole.

Four bills that passed with overwhelming support Tuesday would "protect those who are most vulnerable in our society," said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the House Judiciary crime subcommittee.Under a tougher version of what has become known as "Megan's Law," states would be required to tell communities when a convicted sex offender considered a danger to the public gets out of prison and settles in a neighborhood. States could lose federal aid for failing to comply. Current law lets states decide whether to inform the public.

"Today is a great day for children and a great day for their parents," Rep. Dick Zimmer, R-N.J., the bill's author, said after it passed 418-0. "Today we're putting the rights of children above the rights of convicted sex offenders."

Two separate two-strikes-and-you're-out provisions were added to a second bill that would make sentences about 50 percent more severe for crimes against children, the elderly and the disabled. The overall bill passed 414-4.

"If you are such a coward that you would prey upon the most defenseless in our society, then you will face an automatic increase in your punishment," said Rep. Dick Chrysler, R-Mich., who sponsored the bill.

The other two bills, each passed by voice vote, would:

- Expand the reach of federal anti-stalking provisions to include strangers who cross state lines to injure or harass someone. The 1994 crime law addressed such behavior only by current and former spouses and intimates.

- Increase from the current 10 years the sentence of those convicted of jury or witness tampering or retaliating against a witness. The new maximum sentence could be as severe as the sentence for the offense being tried in the case.

The Clinton administration supports the new Megan's Law bill, the anti-stalking bill and the jury and witness tampering and retaliation bill.

Megan's Law is named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton Township, N.J. She was killed two years ago. A convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her - whose record was unknown to the Kankas - was charged with the crime.