ST. PAUL -- Driven partly by high-profile crimes in the past year, a House panel Thursday endorsed tighter restrictions on sex offenders that leaders say would be the most significant changes in a decade.
The last time the Legislature took a serious look at the issue was in 1991, when lawmakers forced sex offenders to keep authorities informed of their whereabouts. The new package would require wider registration and bigger penalties for violations.
Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, chairman of the House Crime Prevention Committee that assembled and approved the legislation, called the package ''very tough.''
The push gained steam with public outrage over the abduction of 19-year-old Katie Poirier in Moose Lake and the killing of 12-year-old Cally Jo Larson in Waseca. Many people believe sex offenders were involved in both cases.
The cases have sparked discussion about sex offenders going undetected and failing to comply with registration laws. Some 10,000 offenders are registered in Minnesota, but information on them isn't always updated.
''Right now it's a joke,'' Stanek said. ''We're not going to allow those loopholes.''
High profile crimes aside, there's good reason to target sex offenders because they are likely to keep committing crimes, said Stanek, a Minneapolis police captain.
The House bill, which has at least two more committee stops before it reaches the floor, addresses these concerns. Sex offenders would be charged with a felony and face a two year prison term if they failed to register their vehicles, homes, vacation properties and work addresses. Their status would be included in a special file connected to their driver's record.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would have authority to post pictures and information on a Web site of offenders who don't comply with registration rules. Offenders who pose the greatest risk would have to register for 20 years, twice the period they are now tracked.
''It is asking a lot of sex offenders, and yet they put themselves in that position,'' Stanek said.
Other parts of the bill would require convicted felons who want to change their names to get permission from the prosecutor in their case and make it a felony to use the Internet to lure juveniles for sex.
One hurdle the bill faces is funding for probation officers and the BCA, which is responsible for keeping tabs on offenders. Gov. Jesse Ventura wants projects that require new spending to wait until next year.
Stanek is unsure of the total cost. If the final bill includes a new computer to begin linking the state's 1,100 law enforcement agencies, it would cost at least $15 million.
Weaver said it's too early to tell if Ventura would change his mind in this case.
''There is a sense of urgency among the public; it's just too soon to make commitments,'' he said.
Senate Crime Prevention and Judiciary Budget Chairman Randy Kelly, DFL-St. Paul, expects the Senate to pass a similar measure.
The House bill is H.F. 2892.
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