- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

SAN DIEGO | A bill designed to keep the most violent of California’s sex offenders in prison for life without parole passed the major hurdle of the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

“Chelsea’s Law,” named after murdered teen Chelsea King of Poway was expected to come under tough scrutiny by the committee, which is known for its lack of support for measures that would increase spending or prison populations. It will now go to the Appropriations Committee.

Nearly 40,000 Californians signed petitions in support of Assembly Bill 1844, as the result of a volunteer drive by Chelsea’s Light Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Brent and Kelly King, after their daughter’s death in February.

Chelsea, 17, disappeared after jogging in a Rancho Bernardo park. Authorities say her body was found in a shallow grave on the shore of Lake Hodges about a week later.

“Today’s outcome is a testament to our daughter’s powerful legacy, to the passionate voices of Californians who care about children, and to the legislative process which exists to carry out the will of the people,” the Kings stated Tuesday.

The bill already has swept through the state Assembly on a 71-0 vote.

In addition to the life terms without parole for offenders who commit sex crimes with aggravated circumstances such as kidnapping and great bodily harm, Chelsea’s Law would provide for increased monitoring of people who have committed less-serious crimes and have been released. The worst of those cases could incur lifetime parole, along with lifetime GPS monitoring.

The deaths of Chelsea and 14-year-old Amber Duboishave shocked and galvanized San Diego county in the past 18 months. Sex offender John Albert Gardner III initially denied both killings, but later agreed to a plea bargain in which he said he had raped and murdered both girls. The deal resulted in two life sentences but saved him from execution.

While authorities said they had DNA evidence in Chelsea’s murder, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has said she could not have convicted Gardner in Amber’s case because of lack of physical evidence.

Amber was reported missing after she did not show up for school on Feb. 13, 2009. In March 2010, her bones were found on a remote hill adjacent to Pala Indian Reservation.Authorities say Gardner led them to Amber’s remains.

The cases have led to other legislative proposals. Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, San Diego County Republican, has authored a bill to let parents of murdered children keep the autopsy reports sealed.

Senate Bill 982 was due to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, but the hearing was postponed to address concerns of child advocates and public defenders, Laurie Paredes of Mr. Hollingsworth’s office said.

The bill has drawn fire from media groups such as the California Newspaper Publishers Association. The University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute opposes such a broad bill on the grounds that children are sometimes murdered by relatives who may protect each other.

Autopsy reports on Chelsea and Amber have been denied to at least 22 media organizations that have requested them, with the San Diego County Medical Examiners’ Office citing the “ongoing investigation” as the reason. Law enforcement agencies are searching for other victims.

Other proposals include a package of bills that would quicken law enforcement agencies’ response time when a child is missing, and provide them with more training.

As Chelsea’s parents celebrated the passage of their bill through the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, one of four bills supported by Amber’s father also received unanimous approval in the same committee.

Assembly Bill 33 would establish written procedures, protocols and resources for law enforcement to use as a framework when a child is reported missing.

One of the other four bills by Mr. Dubois, which would mandate that sex offenders have an identifying mark on their driver’s license or carry a special identification card, was shot down in the Transportation Committee due to concerns about stigmatizing offenders who are unlikely to commit another offense. This bill will be amended and re-presented next session.

The other two bills he is pushing are:

• Assembly Bill 34, which would require the state to file, within two hours, information about a reported missing child under age 16 to the Violent Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center.

• Assembly Bill 1022, which would establish within the Department of Justice the “California Missing Children Rapid Response Team” to help police when children disappear.

Those two bills will join AB33 in going before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.