JESSICA'S LAW PASSES SENATE
|Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (left) and Senator Robert Deuell listen to reporters' questions about Texas' version of Jessica's Law, passed by the Senate Tuesday.|
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would stiffen penalties for sexual assault against children, including permitting prosecutors to seek the death penalty in specific situations. The bill is modeled after Florida's "Jessica's Law", named after Jessica Lunsford, a victim of abuse and murder at the hands of a convicted sex offender. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who has made this bill one of his priorities for this session, says this bill is easy for sexual offenders to understand. "This bill sends a message: don't mess with our kids in Texas."
House Bill 8, sponsored by Greenville Senator Robert Deuell, would create a minimum sentence of 25 years for those convicted of an aggravated assault against a child under 14, with certain aggravating circumstances, such as kidnapping, threatening harm, actual bodily harm, or drugging the child. For a second offense, prosecutors would be given the option of seeking life without parole or the death penalty. Deuell likened the death penalty application permitted under this bill to a "rifleshot", saying it could only be applied for certain repeated offenses. " It's for very specific, egregious crimes, that I think just about anyone who would support the death penalty would agree is appropriate," he said.
The bill also creates a new type of offense, called continuous sexual abuse of a child, for abuse that happens more than once over a period of 30 days. These offenders face 25 years for the first offense, and life without parole for the second. Penalties against child pornography are also enhanced, moving this offense to a first degree felony, with a sentence of 5-99 years in prison. These offenses would also be reclassified as a '3-G' offense, meaning convicts would have to serve at least half of their sentences, with no time off for good behavior.
The bill also includes provisions regarding treatment and monitoring of sex offenders. Under this measure, the Department of Corrections would be required to offer treatment to inmates convicted of a sexual crime against a child. The bill would also mandate real-time GPS monitoring for parolees. In order to aid smaller jurisdictions in prosecuting these cases, the Office of Attorney General would be required to help with investigation and prosecution if requested.
Deuell said Tuesday's bill represented the voice of all the stakeholders in this issue, including prosecutors and victim's rights advocates. Although it creates harsher penalties for those who abuse children, Deuell says he hopes the penalties will serve as a deterrent against anyone who might sexually assault a child. "I'm a family physician, I want to practice preventative medicine," he said. "So it would be good to have legislation that potential predators would look at and think, 'it's not worth it.'"
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 25, at 11a.m.