The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of a limited proposal to slightly expand the number of people who are eligible to be removed from Arizona’s sex offender registry, lauding a proposal that many called an incremental step in the right direction while calling for Arizona to go further.
House Bill 2613 would extend eligibility for removal from the sex offender registry to people involving law enforcement officers or others who pose as a 15, 16 or 17-year-old, and to any other offense in which the victim was at least 15 years. Currently, the statute only applies to people convicted of consensual sexual contact with a minor who is at least 15. The legislation would remove that exclusive requirement, but it’s unclear what other offenses might become eligible for removal from the registry.
The bill would also add new requirements for people to be removed from the registry, including that they be at least 35 years old and haven’t been convicted of more than one offense involving more than one victim.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he sponsored HB2613 at the request of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and others. He called it a modest step toward alleviating what he called the “perpetual punishment” of people who have to register as sex offenders. Bowers said he’d like to go further, noting that he’s spent three years working on juvenile justice issues related to sex offenses. But HB2613 is as far as county attorneys are willing to go.
“At the same time, they recognize and I recognize that there is a huge population and growing, both in prison and out of prison, that are basically lifeless because of what this does to a real person’s life to be on the registry,” Bowers said.
Several people testified about the effect that sex offender registration has had on them or on loved ones.
Ryan Jacobsen testified that he must register as a sex offender after communicating with a 14-year-old who initially told him she was 18, despite the fact that they never had any physical sexual contact. Rather than risk being sentenced to up to 55 years in prison, he said it was a no-brainer that he take a plea deal. After completing four years of probation, he went back to school, but mistakenly failed to properly re-register for the sex offender registration, for which he said he faced an additional charge.
Even if HB2613 becomes law, Jacobsen said it won’t help him because, once he turns 35, he’ll still only meet nine of the ten criteria is establishes. Nonetheless, he urged the committee to pass the bill.
Vicky Campo said her son spent five years in prison after he took a plea deal for having sex with a teenage girl while he was in college. Her son has been out of prison for four years, she said, but his punishment will never be over because of his sex offender registration, which has made it nearly impossible for him to hold down a job.
Campo said many people are required to register as sex offenders for things like sexting photos or public urination.
“When we say the word ‘sex offender,’ people hear ‘sexual predator.’ And it is simply not true,” she said. “I don’t condone my son’s actions. But his punishment did not fit his crime. And even this bill wouldn’t provide him with relief.”
Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said it’s absurd for Campo’s son and others like him “to suddenly be life-imprisoned with a sexual offender label,” and that he’d like to see legislation in the future that would help him. And he said what Jacobsen has gone through is “just unacceptable.”
“How many of that man are there in our society? And what do we do about them?” Lawrence said.
Both Democrats and Republicans said they supported the incremental step that HB2613 will take, but said more needs to be done. Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said she hopes that the bill can be amended to make it broader, a sentiment echoed by Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler.
“At least we’re starting to do something. I would be interested in expanding it, as well,” Pawlik said.
Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said he supported the incremental approach that the Legislature is taking. He said his attitudes have changed a lot on the subject over the past decade.
“I think we need to rejoice in the fact that we’re here today having this discussion,” Roberts said, adding, “We should not overstep.”