Utah's version of Jessica's Law lacks key provisions

Utah's version of Jessica's Law lacks key provisions

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Jon Huntsman said a proposal to lock up some sex offenders for at least 25 years for crimes against children will be the "gold standard" in child-protection laws.

But it still would lack several key provisions of a Florida law that serves as the model.

The Utah proposal is called "Jessica's Law" after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender who lived in her neighborhood.

After the killing, Florida set a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life for certain sex offenses against children, and many states followed Florida's lead.

In Utah, the current minimum penalty for rape, object rape or sodomy of a child -- anyone younger than 14 -- is 15 years to life in prison. "I will do whatever I can to make sure we reach the endpoint here in recognizing and achieving Jessica's Law for this state," said Huntsman, a Republican. "We ought to be a best-practices state as it is related to protecting our children."

The bill being touted by Huntsman fails to include several of the hallmarks of Florida's Jessica Lunsford Act.

Among the provisions missing from the Utah bill are lifetime GPS tracking of those who sexually assault children after the offenders are released from prison; and requiring fingerprints and background checks for those who work on school grounds, including construction crews, high school referees and vending machine stockers.

Lunsford's killer, John Couey, had briefly worked as a mason's assistant during a building project at her school. Huntsman left the Capitol news conference in support of the bill Monday without taking questions.

Bill sponsor Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said bills being sponsored by other legislators might include the Florida provisions in them. He mentioned an effort by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, to increase compliance with sex offender registration.

However, Ray said he has no plans to sponsor a bill this year that would require criminal background checks for everyone who works at a school when a child is present. He said there's a greater likelihood that GPS tracking could be approved this year.

Ray said that waiting a year or two to add onto Wimmer's proposal would allow Utah lawmakers to learn from other state's unforeseen consequences. For example, in Florida, Jessica's Law prohibited people convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude" from school grounds when students are present.

The problem, legislators and workers there agreed, is that the definition of moral turpitude is up to school boards. Some have defined it in the strictest sense possible, well beyond what sponsors intended, so that a person cleared in one county sometimes fails in another.

The Webster's New World College Dictionary defines turpitude as baseness, vileness or depravity.

If Utah lawmakers were to approve everything their colleagues in Florida did, it could prove expensive.

Florida budgeted $4 million on new GPS devices to track sex offenders in 2005 and hundreds of thousands more for administrative costs.


(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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