Murphy's Law: Bad legislation comes back to haunt author

July 6, 2009 

Sometimes bad laws have a way of coming back to bite the people most responsible for enacting them. That's the case with state Sen. George Runner, the principal sponsor of Proposition 83, the 2006 initiative popularly known as Jessica's Law, which voters approved overwhelmingly.

Among other things, the law severely restricts where sexual offenders can live after being released from prison. Under its provisions, those convicted of rape or child molestation or even misdemeanor indecent exposure cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or a park.

As critics of Proposition 83 pointed out, such tight restrictions have the unintended effect of forcing paroled sex offenders either into homelessness or into rural and suburban communities where law enforcement is thin and jobs and counseling services that many offenders need to remain crime-free are virtually nonexistent.

This was not mere conjecture. Law enforcement officials in other states that had enacted similar restrictions reported those results. Because of that, many states sought to repeal or modify their versions of Jessica's Law.

Runner was fully aware of these concerns. Nonetheless, the Republican from Lancaster continued to press the case for passage.

But even before voters approved Jessica's Law, The Sacramento Bee's Andy Furillo reports, Runner had taken exceptional care to see that as few parolees as possible, including ex-sex offenders, would be sent to his suburban Los Angeles district.

Because his district is home to a state prison and has a large supply of affordable housing, Runner says, a disproportionate number of released felons were being housed there.

So, he cut a deal with the Department of Corrections, 10 months before the ballot measure was voted on, to reduce the flow of parolees there.

Under what Runner called a "side agreement," the Department of Corrections pledged to assign only parolees with "historical ties" to his north Los Angeles County district.

But the deal turns out to have been illegal. State law requires that parolees be returned to their county of origin but does not allow the prison system to direct them to or away from specific communities.

Last year, the department suspended the agreement. So now, Runner's constituents are in position to experience the full brunt of Jessica's Law along with the rest of the state. Because the suburban district Runner represents is less populated, its parks and schools more spread out, it means that more sex offenders will likely wind up there.

A special board set up to monitor the effects of Jessica's Law thinks homelessness among parolees poses a significant public safety threat. Since Runner's initiative went into effect, the number of homeless sex offenders has jumped from 88 to 1,000.

The costly, dangerous mistake that is Jessica's Law hurts all of California. Now it will be felt in full force in Runner's home district -- as it should be.

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