House Speaker Rusty Bowers is taking another shot at passing legislation making it easier for some people to get their names off the state’s sex offender registry.
House Bill 2674 would give some relatively low-level offenders an opportunity to end their lifetime obligation to register as sex offenders. People convicted of crimes including sexual abuse of a minor who is at least 15 years old, indecent exposure, sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual extortion and misrepresenting a person’s age for purposes of committing a sexual offense would be able to petition a judge to end their registration requirement.
There are fairly narrow criteria offenders would have to meet in order to qualify. They must be at least 35 years old to petition a judge. They must not have had any additional offenses for at least 10 years, and cannot have been convicted of more than one offense involving more than one victim. State law already requires offenders who are eligible to end their registration obligation to have been under 22 years old at the time of the offense, and victims must have been at least 15.
“It’s good policy for youthful offenders, been clean for a long time, done everything they’re supposed to do. I’d like to give them a life,” said Bowers, a Republican from Mesa.
Bowers sponsored an identical bill in 2019 with the support of then-Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. That bill passed easily out of the House of Representatives and seemed likely to sail through the Senate as well, but became collateral damage as several GOP senators, led by Sen. Paul Boyer, defeated it in protest over legislative leaders blocking Boyer’s bill to give victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers and the organiations that sheltered them.
With two years passed and Boyer’s bill enshrined in law, Bowers decided to revive his old proposal, which he noted had plenty of support in 2019, when the House passed it 56-4.
“It still needs to be done and I think it’s good policy,” the speaker said.
Charity Clark, a member of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and a defense attorney who specializes in defending people accused of sex crimes cases, called Bowers’s bill a step in the right direction.
There are some changes Clark hopes to see. She noted that the bill actually makes it harder for offenders who are already eligible to seek removal from the registry by requiring them to be at least 35 and to have had no offenses for at least 10 years. And she’d like to see changes to address offenders who move to Arizona and were removed from their old state’s registry but aren’t eligible to do the same here.
But overall, Clark was enthusiastic. Lifetime registration is a serious problem for offenders, who are limited in where they’re allowed to live, have trouble finding work and are often the target of “mom brigades” who scour the sex offender registry and post online about offenders in the area, sometimes assuming the worst of people whose crimes were relatively minor.
“If we could limit the registration to people who are actually problematic, it would make that more meaningful, rather than having people be registered for minor offenses or things that are not really serious (and) don’t make them a danger,” Clark said. “If registration is meant to do something, it would be better if it’s used appropriately.”
Bowers’s support for criminal justice reform in the 2021 legislative session doesn’t end with HB2674. He sponsored another bill that’s similar to Rep. Walt Blackman’s sentencing reform proposal, which would allow some inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses to earn an earlier release date, though the speaker said he has no intention of pushing the bill as is. Rather, his House Bill 2680 is a backup in case the need arises for a bill that lawmakers can amend for other criminal justice proposals later in the session.
“I would like to have criminal justice reform. I don’t want us to go too far one way or the other. And I want to see how things develop and we have a backup for any other planning needs to take place,” Bowers said.