Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Missouri works to protect children

Missouri working to stop child predators
Michael Gibbons • July 2, 2008

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling against a Louisiana case pursuing the death penalty for child rapists, here in Missouri we have taken a number of steps to protect our children from those who would sexually prey on them. On Monday Gov. (Matt) Blunt signed a law that strengthens protections for our children from sexual predators. We have passed some of the toughest laws in the nation that lock the door and throw away the key on sex offenders. We have also created a cybercrime task force system that hunts predators who try to entice our children on the Internet. These new laws build on these measures to keep our kids safe.

Identifying online predators
Our kids deserve to be safe whether they are playing in a park or surfing the Web. The best way to keep them safe is with prevention. Having online identifying information up front will better help parents and teachers protect their children online, and give law enforcement better tools to catch cyber predators in the act. That's why we're adding online identifying information of any registered sex offenders to the sex offender registry. The Missouri Highway Patrol will share the online information with electronic and computer businesses to prescreen users. The information will be available to the public through searches using the online identifier. We made it a crime for failing to register as a sex offender, shortened the amount of time those convicted have to register and require sex offenders from other states to register in Missouri if they are here more than a week. They also will now also be photographed, have to provide palm prints and a DNA sample.

Funding cyber crime task forces
The bill also creates the Cyber Crimes Investigation Fund. This new fund benefits the Internet Cyber Crimes Grant program that we put in place two years ago by providing $3 million annually. The grant program has supported and created local law enforcement and multijurisdictional task forces across Missouri that employ cyber detectives and computer forensic experts. These task forces target Internet predators and child pornographers. Since the grant program began, arrests of cyber predators targeting our children has quadrupled.

Safer trick-or-treating
Sex offenders are banned from participating in all Halloween festivities related to children. Sex offenders must stay inside their residence from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Halloween, post a sign at their residence stating there are no treats there and make sure all outside lighting is off. Even with this new safety measure in place, I encourage parents to continue to check their children's Halloween route against the state's sex offender registry in order to avoid potentially harmful situations.

Cracking down on child pornographers
Anyone convicted of possessing child pornography will face tougher sentences by increasing the severity of the crime to a Class C or Class B felony, depending on previous offenses. Plus, those convicted of promoting child pornography will be ineligible for probation or parole for at least three years. We also overturned a state Supreme Court decision that allows defendants or their attorneys in child pornography cases to obtain any electronic or any other copies of alleged child pornography. Defendants and their attorneys will now only be allowed to view evidence at approved state or governmental facilities, rather than regaining access to their harmful images for possible reuse or distribution. These changes improve our ability to enforce the laws already in place as well as create new ways to help shield our children from being sexually exploited online. Our children deserve to be safe -- whether playing in their yard, trick-or-treating or in their home while on the computer. We are fully committed to protecting our children and will punish those who do to the fullest extent of the law.

Supreme Court decisions
I am disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling against a Louisiana law that would impose the death penalty for child rapists. The court's ruling was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy who, according to The Associated Press, was joined by "his four liberal colleagues" in striking down the law. I support Justice Samuel Alito's dissent that in part stated: "The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave. It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty." Earlier this year, we considered a similar law. I am disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, but I will enforce the tough laws we passed to protect our children from sexual predators as the next attorney general of Missouri. We will lock the door and throw away the key on those vermin that prey on our children as well as focus on prevention to make sure our kids are never hurt in the first place.

I also praise the Supreme Court for upholding law-abiding Missourians rights under the Second Amendment to the Constitution to own guns for self-defense and hunting. I agreed with the court's decision and in particular with Justice Antonin Scalia who said in writing for the majority that the Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home." This is a major victory for Missourians, and I strongly commend the Supreme Court for its common-sense ruling on this very important legal issue. As attorney general, I will work to protect our Second Amendment rights and enforce Missouri laws that give our citizens the right to carry, prevent their firearms from being confiscated during natural disasters and make sure that they can defend their homes from intruders.

Michael Gibbons is president pro tem of the Missouri Senate and a Republican candidate for state attorney general.

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