The House Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee is hearing testimony on a measure that would require schools and colleges to notify staff, parents and students age 18 and older if a sex offender is joining the district.
Sponsored by Rep. Kirk Pearson, HB 1208, would require schools to give out a student’s name, crime they were convicted of and the details of their sentencing if they are classified as a level 2 or level 3 sex offender. The current law requires sex offenders let the county sheriff know when they enroll in classes and that sheriff then informs the school that a sex offender will be joining them. That information must only be passed on to teachers and any others who will be supervising the student. Beyond that the information must be kept confidential. This bill would bring parents and students 18 and older into the loop.
Ten years ago Rep. Pearson said he was approached by a young lady who was being assaulted by sex offender who was going to her school. “We have over 400 juvenile sex offenders in our schools,” he said. “I would like to empower parents that they would be able to know,” said Pearson. “Notification like this is powerful. When you have information like this out a juvenile sex offender will know that they are being watched.” It is not to bully them out of an education, he added.
Pearson passed similar legislation in 2005 but he said that was a small step, this is the next step.
“We strongly support the bill,” said a representative of the Washington Education Association. They said they especially like the part that includes staff, bus-drivers etc. Not only would it be better for their individual safety, they said, but it would also help them to help the juvenile offenders to re-acclimate to student life.
“We are concerned that this bill will not achieve that goal [protecting the community],” said Dan Knoepfler, Wash. Ass. for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. Two reasons he said are because the rate of recidivism in juvenile offenders is low and the tool used to assess risk does not make good judgment when it comes to juveniles. “To use a public notification based on that would further exacerbate some the problems that these kids have.”
“I am passionately opposed to many of the notification requirements in this bill,” said Mahna Salter with the Washington Defenders Association. She has been working with juvenile offenders for years in Colorado and said that school is one of the only places were they can have normal social interactions. This bill, she said, would further stigmatize and isolate them while damaging their hope of recovery. “In my experience most all of them were victims of sexual abuse and acted out sexually,” said Salter. Treatment is already difficult and isolating, she added.
Rep. Chris Hurst, said that he got the impression that those testifying it would be a good idea to give more information to those that work for the school district as they could help the juvenile offender. But what they might need to take another look at, he said, was the intended and unintended consequences of giving that information out to parents and students.
You can watch the live hearing here.