The other day, as I sat in my brown recliner clicking through various political talk shows, I discovered that just about the only thing politicians could agree on seemed to be “closing loopholes.” It was unanimous. “Loopholes” are bad. Not a dissenter in the house. But what they say on talk shows doesn’t always match up with their actions.
Being generally curious about words and their usage, I pulled my American Heritage Dictionary from the bookshelf and looked up the word loophole. According to the wordsmiths, loophole means: “an omission or ambiguity in the wording of a contract or law that allows one to evade compliance.” True enough, but the definition leaves out the element of the potential for human suffering when such careless lawmaking puts the rights of violent criminals about the rights of the general public. When we look closer at specific loopholes in California law, especially when they concern crime and public safety, we find that such omissions and ambiguities in the law can have devastating impacts and change lives forever.
One such loophole is threatening the safety of students, employees and their children and visitors to our college campuses. Existing state law requires a convicted sex offender to register with their local chief of police or sheriff, and with the chief of police of a campus of the University of California, the California State University, or community college only if the offender resides within campus boundaries. However, if the convicted sex offender is affiliated with the school, but lives off-campus, he or she doesn’t have to register with campus police. These convicted offenders may be entrusted with positions (i.e., tutoring, childcare, child development classes) that can put innocent adults and children at risk. There is at least one pending lawsuit against a community college brought by a victim of sexual abuse because the campus police was unaware of the predator’s presence.
For the last several years, Assemblywoman Bates and Assemblyman Pescetti have tried to close this dangerous loophole in the law by requiring every convicted sex offender affiliated with any University, state college, or community college to register with campus police. Both AB 1091 (Bates) of 1999 and AB 2072 (Pescetti) of 2000 were killed in Assembly Appropriations Committee. However, it appears that the momentum has shifted. Two similar bills, AB 4 (Bates) and AB 703 (Cardoza) passed the Assembly floor during the last two weeks.
Why is the Legislature finally acting on this important issue? The answer appears to be that a threat by the federal government to cut off crime-fighting funds has finally convinced state legislators to enact this common sense law. Recently enacted federal law HR 3244 requires that states adopt measures to additionally require registered sex offenders to register with the law enforcement of a higher education institution if the offender is a student or an employee of the institution. HR 3244 provides that any state that does not conform its law will lose 10% of federal funds provided under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. Our state risks losing $5.5 million if we do not act.
But the California Legislature does not appear to be in any hurry to enact this new law. As currently written, if AB 4 or AB 703 were signed by the Governor the provisions would take effect on July 1, 2002. All other non-urgent bills take effect on January 1, 2002. Why delay for six months? Don’t we want our campus police to monitor sex offenders now? If the Legislature is serious about protecting the safety of students, employees and their children, and visitors on college campuses, they should amend AB 4 and AB 703 with an urgency clause. The State Constitution provides that a bill with an urgency clause and that passes with the votes of 2/3rds of the Assembly and State Senate takes effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature. The time for action is now.
June 22. 2001
Postscript: Governor Davis signed AB 4 (Bates) into law.