California lawmakers OK ‘Chelsea’s Law’

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SAN DIEGO | A group of bills related to child abduction and sex offenders, including one that would incarcerate the most violent sex offenders for life without parole and provide harsher sentences for forcible sex crimes, is awaiting the signature of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On Monday, “Chelsea’s Law,” carried by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher of San Diego, cleared the state Assembly floor on a 72-0 concurrence vote.

Once enacted, the measure also will place increased restrictions on sex offenders on parole, as well as mandate that the Megan’s Law website lists sex offenders’ risk assessment scores, and revise the California mentally disordered offender laws to allow for continued detention of offenders where evaluation and assessment indicate it to be necessary.

Chelsea’s Law is named after 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway, Calif., who was raped and murdered while jogging in a Rancho Bernardo Park in February.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has said he would sign the measure. “I am committed to protecting our children and keeping our communities safe from the threat of sexual predators,” he said.

Mr. Fletcher, a Republican, said Monday that the passage of Chelsea’s Law shows that “this body can come together in a bipartisan way and make substantial changes” to what he called a broken public safety system, with “systemic failures.” He said the multi-agency group that crafted Chelsea’s Law worked nearly every day for six months to find good policy.

John Albert Gardner III, a registered sex offender, confessed to raping and killing Chelsea and also 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido in a plea bargain in April and was sentenced in May. Amber disappeared in 2009 and her remains were found in March.

The sheriff’s department said DNA evidence tied Gardner to Chelsea’s slaying and that he led investigators to Amber’s remains. A measure involving autopsy reports overcame its final hurdle Monday in a 60-1 vote on the Assembly floor.

Authored by state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta, the measure will allow some family members of murdered children to seal autopsy reports and other information after someone is sentenced for the crime. Family members in opposition will be allowed a hearing in court.

Both measures are designed to become law as soon as the governor signs them. Mr. Fletcher is working with the governor’s office to arrange for Chelsea’s Law to be signed in San Diego. No date has been set.

Chelsea’s Law was supported by the teen’s parents and their Chelsea’s Light foundation of 100,000 “changemakers,” as well as law enforcement agencies, cities, counties and district attorneys in California.

“This is a uniquely collaborative achievement, powered by people who care passionately about the children of California,” Brent and Kelly King said in a press release Monday. They hope to take the concept to other states, with support from Mr. Fletcher.

“The Assemblyman did speak with legislators from other states about Chelsea’s Law during the recent American Legislative Exchange Council conference in San Diego,” Mr. Fletcher’s spokeswoman Ericka Perryman said.

Sara Fraunces, a spokeswoman for the Kings, confirmed that Mr. Fletcher has heard from several out-of-state contacts, but that “articulating the direction is premature before the signing.”

The autopsy bill has had a slightly rockier road through the legislature.

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