The Iowa House has voted to toughen state laws dealing with sex offenders, including forcing sex offenders who’re released from prison to wear electronic bracelets that’ll allow officials to track their movements. Representative Roger Thomas, a Democrat from Elkader, says it makes sense to make sex offenders who’re released from prison wear electronic monitoring devices. “Gosh, if we can do it for Martha Stewart, I would sure think we could do it for somebody (who) is going to come after our kids,” Thomas says. Representative Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, says that proposal and others are a response to the death of a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl, allegedly at the hands of a convicted sex offender. “We find it absolutely to be a horrific act what took place over in eastern Iowa this year and we want to make sure we’re doing things that are wise and protecting the citizens of Iowa and protecting our children,” Paulsen says. The House also voted to force sex offenders to serve their entire prison sentence if they refuse treatment. Under current law, they can get time off for good behavior and gain an early get-out-of-prison card. Roger Bentley, the man accused of killed Jetsetta Gage, was sentenced to a five-year prison term but only served two-and-a-half years on a sex abuse conviction because he got time off for good behavior. Representative Swati Dandekar, a Democrat from Marion, says the bill also aims to ensure the information on the state’s Sex Offender Registry is as up-to-date as possible. “The tragic incident in Cedar Rapids last week underscores the urgent need to make the system work better,” she says. “We must be persistent in our effort to keep our communities safe and that is what this legislation will be.” Representative Todd Taylor, another Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says legislators are voting tough now, but he questioned whether they’ll vote later to put up the money, like the two-million dollars for the electronic monitoring devices. “This is clearly an emotional issue. If we want to be tough on crime, that’s o-kay, but we also need to be effective on crime,” Taylor says. Each electronic monitoring bracelet costs just under five-dollars a day to operate, and the state will have to hire new probation officers to monitor the sex offenders who’re wearing the bracelets. Representative Jamie Van Fossen, a Republican from Davenport, questions whether the bill that’s loaded with changes in reaction to the death of 10-year-old Jetsetta Gage was the right response to her murder. “Did Jetsetta’s mom even look on the Sex Offender Registry? This all to me a ruse. It’s not what any of the problem was with this murder case…What is a problem is that you have a re-offender under aggravated circumstances, including kidnapping. commit the crime of murder,” Van Fossen says. “If this isn’t a death penalty case, I don’t know what is, and we’re discussing the Sex Offender Registry website? Give me a break.” Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, also questioned whether the House was overreacting. “I think sometimes we get kind of knee-jerk,” Mascher says. “We want to do something to fix the problem but instead we often times make it worse, and I think we have to be careful about that.” Representative Joe Hutter, a Republican from Bettendorf, says lawmakers for years have failed Iowa’s kids by not getting tougher with sex offenders. “We’ve heard of the three strikes in California and you’re out,” Hutter says. “In Iowa, it’s got to be two strikes and you’re in jail for the rest of his life.” The bill, howver, did not do that. Despite the objections raised by Hutter, Van Fossen and Mascher, every member of the House voted for the bill. The wide-ranging legislation now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
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