Watch Program

Jessica's Law

George Runner
State Senator and
Honorary Chairman, Prop. 83 (Jessica's Law)

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Senior Editor

Sunday, October 29, 2006
(Television interview conducted October 24, 2006)

    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Time Warner Cable, and hosted by Signal Senior Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m. This week's newsmaker is California Senator George Runner, R-Lancaster, honorary chairman of Proposition 83 on the Nov. 7 ballot (Jessica's Law). Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: You are one of the honorary chairpersons of the Proposition 83 campaign, aka Jessica's Law.

Runner: Yes. And we have to be called "honorary" because we can't be the writer of it for civil, legal (reasons). But we basically wrote Proposition 83.

Signal: Who's the "we"?

Runner: Sharon and I, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner. What happened is, we introduced legislation a year ago because we were frustrated with the fact that we couldn't get single bills out of the Legislature dealing with the issue of protection of children from child predators.

Signal: Why not?

Runner: It's amazing. You cannot get them out of the Public Safety committees — and we tried years and years. I carried, for years, the bill on trying to make child pornography a felony, or trying to toughen up the laws with Internet luring. Right now in California, we have not successfully prosecuted one person under the current Internet luring laws.
 That surprises people, because they say, "Oh, no, I've seen this on ŒDateline.' I've seen them go ahead and arrest those people." Well, the difference is, they are being arrested for intent to molest. That's why (police) have to show up at the house. If our law could be enforced the way it's supposed to be enforced, you could get arrested simply for going on the computer and trying to then entice a child into a situation. You don't have to actually set up this elaborate sting. But our laws didn't work. So we tried to create laws to make it so that we could indeed do it.

Signal: What does the law say now?

Runner: Right now, the law says you cannot entice a minor, and you cannot have sexual contact or conversation with a minor. The problem is that it's flawed, so prosecutors have not been able to use it. That's why they have to do these stings and actually have the person show up, as opposed to just using their computer to try to do that.
 Under Proposition 83, what'll happen is, an individual starts doing that to a minor — and it can even be a decoy pretending to be a minor, like they do on those shows — the law enforcement can go to that person's house and arrest them there, confiscate their computer and use that as evidence, never having to set up these elaborate stings. That's the way it should be. That's the way we've wanted it, and that kind of issue has been blocked by the Public Safety Committee.
 So, out of frustration, we put together a number of laws, probably about 35 of them, that we think were the right ones to do. We worked with the District Attorneys Association, we worked with the Sheriff's Association, we worked with the governor's office to put those together. We ran bills last year saying, "Hey, look, we're going to give you a chance. We're going to go ahead and, if the Legislature passes these, then we don't need to go to the people for an initiative. But if the Legislature doesn't, we're going to take these to the people."

Signal: And the Legislature didn't?

Runner: The Legislature didn't.

Signal: Why not? What's the deal? Are there a bunch of perverts up there in Sacramento? Are your fellow senators text-messaging 16-year-old pages?

Runner: I'm not sure what the motivation is, other than it happens in the Public Safety committees. I'm convinced that if these bills would have moved to the floors of the Senate or the Assembly, they would have passed out. But they get bottled up in these committees — and these committees are chaired by the most liberal representatives and state senators that we have in Sacramento. Both of them are chaired right now by San Francisco Democrats.

Signal: But it can't just be because they're liberal? There are liberal people in Santa Clarita who support Proposition 83.

George Runner
Runner: What happens is, their liberal views move over in terms of their issue about law enforcement, about the issue of justice and their view of justice in regard to how long people should have to serve terms. Those are the issues that get into it.
 For instance, we lose the longer-term laws, simply because people don't like the three-strikes law. Both the chairs oppose three strikes. Their view is, "We don't want to (pass) any law that creates another felony, because if you create another felony, you create another strike. And we don't like three strikes, so we don't want to do those."
 So every bill that came up would constantly get killed simply because, for instance, moving child pornography from a misdemeanor to a felony "creates a new felony, therefore I'm opposed to this."
 I remember debating the issue, for instance, on the Internet luring. You'd have them saying, "Oh, no, California has this law already." And I'd have the D.A.'s Association with me and I'd have they would say, "Yeah, California has it, but we don't prosecute under it because it's flawed, and as a result, these cases will get thrown out, so we cannot prosecute under it." And then you have the chair say, "Oh, no, we don't think it's flawed. We think it's OK."
 Well, you have the chair, who has never tried any of these cases, telling these DAs who try them every day, "Oh, no, you guys go out in there and do that." I remember, we ran a quote from the chair of the Public Safety Committee, Mark Leno, who simply said, "You know, if people are going to look at child pornography in the privacy of their own home, maybe that shouldn't be a felony."
 Well, the problem is, when you're talking about child pornography, you're talking about children who are in the act of abuse, because they're in sexual contact with an adult. That's what child pornography is. Or sexual contact with another child. That's what it is. It's not just pretty pictures of kids on bear rugs. It is perverted and it is abuse.

Signal: So simple possession is not a felony today?

Runner: (No.) Not only is it not just one piece, but you could have a garage full of child pornography and it is not a felony.
 (Readers) probably remember what's happening with the guy who came over from Thailand, John Karr (who falsely confessed to the murder of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey).
 Well, he was arrested in California for possession of child pornography, and the most they could give him was a misdemeanor, which would be a fine of $1,000 and maybe a couple weeks in jail. As a result of that, they didn't keep that evidence. So when he came back, of course they couldn't prosecute him, because they didn't even keep the evidence for something which was a misdemeanor.
 So you put all that together and for some reason, there is a climate that does not want to do that, does not want to protect (children).
 We try all the time to deal with GPS (Global Positioning System tracking) in Sacramento, but again, the ACLU gets involved. "Oh, that's not fair, you don't want to strap people on with GPS." So we couldn't get (those bills) out. At that point we said, "Fine, we're going to go ahead and take this to the people." So Sharon and I began the campaign to get voters to sign petitions, and we turned in over 700,000 signatures, and as a result of that, we established Jessica's Law, Proposition 83, which the voters are going to be voting on.

Signal: Let's take it from the top. When somebody walks into the voting booth sees, "Proposition 83. Sex Offenders. Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring. Initiative Statue" — that doesn't tell you a whole lot about it. What are the basic things Proposition 83 does?

Runner: It's a very complex change of law. There are probably 35 to 40 different laws that we affect with Proposition 83. Let me just go through a couple of them so people will understand this process.
 Sexually violent predators — those are the most dangerous of dangerous. Those are the ones who, after they serve their prison term right now, they are still such a threat to society, we decide that they have to go to a mental hospital. We don't even let them out once they've served all of their term.
 Right now, under the current law, in order to be a sexually violent predator, you have to have two victims. That means you have to do very ugly, terrible things to a person — it could be a woman, a child, it could be another man — and you can't just do it once; you have to do it to two different victims in order to be a "sexually violent" predator.
 Under Jessica's Law, we change that. We say, "One is enough."

Signal: One is enough for what? What happens to the criminal?

Runner: If a person is found to still be a danger once they've served their time, and the release of that individual shows that they're still a threat to society, we can then go through a process and find them as a sexually violent predator. That moves them from the state prison system to the state mental hospital, and at that point, they can be held indefinitely until it is recognized that they are no longer a threat to society.
 That means we can put them into programs, we can do all kinds of things to them in order to see if we can get them to change their behavior. If we think that they are still a threat, then they can be held in the state mental hospital for as long as they are a threat. Under current law, that's not the case.

Signal: If somebody is still a threat — and for that matter, if somebody rapes and mutilates a woman — why is he getting out of prison at all?

Runner: Because we have what's called determinate sentencing. Once you serve your time, you are out. We don't get to hold you longer.

Signal: So does Proposition 83 lengthen prison sentences for that sort of thing?

Runner: What it does — we were talking about a different issue. Jessica's Law does do longer terms, but this particular issue is the issue of civil commitment. That is, we hold you in a mental hospital because you're still a threat. That's one of the things that Jessica's Law does, because right now, you could have the most dangerous sexually violent predator; they can serve all their time in prison, they can go to the state mental hospital for two years, which is what happens right now, and they can come out and they can live across the street from a school. They don't have any parole time left because they served it while they were in the state mental hospital, and there can be no contact (by the government) of neighbors that they're moving in. So that's what current law is, and we change that under Jessica's Law.
 But we also do a number of other things. We also increase minimum sentences. For instance, right now, there are minimum sentences for certain kinds of abuse that are like five, 10, 15 years. We move those up to 10, 15 and 25 years. So we increase that.
 We also make it so that people cannot (receive) concurrent sentencing. That is, right now — let's say this child was abused three different times by an individual, and ... even if they convict them for all three of those, the law says they have to serve concurrent sentences. Let's say it's a 15-year sentence; that means they're only going to serve 15 years.
 Under Jessica's Law, we do consecutive sentencing, which means now there's 15 years for every one of those offenses, which means now, that 15-year term turns into a 45-year term.
 We do things like lengthening parole. Right now parole is three, four or five years. We (increase) parole from five to 10 years so that we monitor them, we keep an eye on them more, and they're actually being on parole longer.

Signal: Tell us about lifetime GPS monitoring.

Runner: The other thing we do is we require monitoring, GPS, on all felony sex offenders as they come out of prison. Once they're out of prison and on parole, they have monitoring, and once they move off of parole as just a registered sex offender, they have lifetime monitoring.
 That simply says, "Hey, if you are a felony sex offender, we're going to want to know where you are at all times. We want to be able to know where you go at all times in case there's an event that takes place, and society wants to know where you are."
 So we basically strap on a GPS (device) to them, when this law passes, and at that point, these individuals can be identified. We're not going to be sitting in front of computers watching them all the time, but at any point in time, a law enforcement (officer) can type in their name and see where these individuals have been over a period of time. That's necessary.

Signal: Can't they just cut it off and run away?

Runner: Well, if they cut it off, there's an alarm that gets set off — and that's another crime. They go back to prison.

Signal: Shouldn't you be implanting it in their heads or something?

Runner: Who knows what the future may hold. But right now, it is a strap-on.
 The fact is, right now, we have registered sex offenders who are supposed to register, but in California, one in four sex offenders who is supposed to register, (hasn't). They're an absconder. That's what they're called. They're supposed to register but they're haven't.
 We believe ... people will behave differently (with the GPS monitoring device) because they know that somebody can check out where they've been. That's going to be a great tool for law enforcement, that's one of the reasons why law enforcement supports Jessica's Law — because now, if there is an event of a molestation that takes place of a child somewhere, the mall, wherever it could be, they can now immediately start looking up and calling up all the sex offenders who would have GPS, and they could see if any of them were in that area at the time while the molestation was taking place.
 That does a couple of things. No. 1, it helps us find an individual who might be guilty, but more importantly, probably, it rules out all the other ones who aren't guilty. Right now, the normal operating procedure for law enforcement when there's a sexual attack is, they start knocking on doors of all the people who are registered sex offenders, and they have to prove that they weren't there — whereas the GPS will help them be able to do that.

Signal: We've seen some opposition emerge in recent weeks, and one thing they're saying is that lifetime GPS monitoring will drive all of these child molesters underground. They're never going to register and it's going to make the problem worse. What do you say?

Runner: The reality is, right now, one in four is already missing. The fact is that with GPS — and again, what happens, you have to remember how this takes place: A person comes out of prison, they're strapped on GPS while they're on parole, they come off of parole, they still have to be monitored, so they still have the same GPS. At some point, if somebody wants to (abscond), they actually have to cut off the GPS monitoring system. Well, if they do that, a couple of things happen. No. 1, authorities are immediately notified, so now you know that somebody over there at their last spot, wherever that is, cut that off. The other issue that takes place is when they do that, now they've committed another crime.
 I've got news for you. If anybody is going to be the guy who cuts it off, I want us to go out and find that guy, catch him and put him back in prison, because obviously, that's an individual who we believe is going to probably commit the crime again. It gives us reason and (probable) cause to be able to put that person away again.

Signal: Proposition 83 also has a residency restriction where anybody convicted of a sex crime can't live within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

Runner: Not currently (on the list); this is all prospective.

Signal: So this doesn't retroactively affect the 90,000 people in California who are supposed to be registered today?

Runner: Only the ones who are on parole. It's a very fine line that we have to walk when we start dealing with these issues, because you can't add an additional penalty onto these individuals who already served their term.
 What we have to do with Jessica's Law is, we have to say, "This is what we have to do from this point on, and this is how we're going to monitor them." And it's not a punishment. What it is, it's public information, just like registering under Megan's Law. It's public information.

Signal: So will you be going to any of the people living in our communities and strapping an ankle bracelet onto them?

Runner: You can't. You cannot do that.

Signal: So any of these one in four who are currently missing—

Runner: As soon as they're found.

Signal: Even if they're missing, they wouldn't be subject to lifetime monitoring anyway—

Runner: As soon as they're found, they will be.

Signal: Only because they will have committed another crime (failure to register)?

Runner: Yes, that's right. Because they've committed another crime.
 It's kind of an interesting issue: You have somebody who's just registered out there, and they've been registered for the last five years, and they're through with their parole, they've gone out, they've bought a house; the government can't say, "Oh, by the way, now all of a sudden you can't live in this house." That's a government "taking," and that's why, constitutionally, it would never (hold) up. So we have to protect that side of it, because the last thing we want to do is create a law that all of a sudden gets thrown out. So what's going to happen is, over the years, this is going to be coming into place, and all those coming out are going to be subject to that law.
 And then, of course, if any of those registrants don't register, if they don't check in when they're supposed to, once a year they're supposed to re-register, any of those issues — then they've committed another crime. Then they can fall under Jessica's Law.

Signal: This business about not being able to live within 2,000 feet of a school or park — the opponents say that's going to create pockets or clusters of sexual predators who live 2,000 feet away from a school. What do you say about that?

Runner: Right now, if you actually go to your computer and you pull up that (list), you see we already have clusters. The problem is, these clusters are around schools.
 If I have a choice of where I want a sex offender to live, it's not going to be around a school. I would rather move them away from those schools...
 To Sharon and me, it's very simple. We just do not believe that children should have to walk by a child molester's home on their way to school. It's that simple. So that's what we're endeavoring to do with Jessica's Law, with those who are now coming out of prison, off of parole, that they just can't do that.
 Now, if that means that more of them have to live in places that are 2,000 feet away from schools — and parks with children apply — that's going to be the other side of that. But we don't know any other way to keep it so that the child molester who's coming out of prison isn't able to take up residency across the street from an elementary school. That's the problem we're trying to fix.

Signal: The opponents say Proposition 83 doesn't distinguish between the violent predators and people who commit a non-violent sex crime, whatever that is. So let's say an 18-year-old boy, or man, has consensual sex with a 17-year-old girl, her parents get upset and call the police, and he ends up with a conviction for statutory rape. Will he have to wear a GPS monitoring device for life?

Runner: First of all, under all of our sentence enhancements, there has to be a seven-year difference in age. That means that under Jessica's Law, all the sentence enhancements — going to prison longer, all those other issues — have got to be seven years' difference. So your example (would have) to be like a 13-year-old and a 20-year-old — not a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old.
 The other issue is that these are all felonies that have been prosecuted as felonies. It's going to be up to the prosecutor as they prosecute some of these crimes. Those are interesting arguments that people bring up, but prosecutors are not prosecuting an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old under statutory rape laws in California. They just don't (do) that, and juries are not convicting (for that).

Signal: OK, regardless of whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony, let's say our 17-year-old girl got pregnant by the encounter, and after the 18-year-old gets out of prison, they get married. Can that 18-year-old never take his kid to the park?

Runner: First of all, it wouldn't apply to that individual. I can't even understand how that would apply in terms of a 17- (or) 15-year-old, because again, the enhanced penalties are seven years' (difference), and it would have to be prosecuted as a felony, and people aren't doing that.
 (Let's say) you have a person who did something that was a little more heinous than that. The answer is: Yes, they can still take their child to the park; they just can't live 2,000 feet from a park. That's all. They can still take their child to school; they just can't live (within 2,000 feet of a school).

Signal: So the most violent predator out there who can't live within 2,000 feet of a school or a park still can go to the school or park?

Runner: Right. The only difference is, he'll be monitored. There will be a GPS on him.
 You work these (fine) lines very carefully: You can't prohibit people from going into areas. We think that that is a very difficult issue to even enforce. That's why monitoring is so important. That's the key issue. The key about monitoring is it changes behavior, and the most relevant story I can tell you about that is the story that my friend Mark Lunsford tells me about his daughter Jessica and about the murderer, John Couey.
 John Couey was monitored as part of his probation in the state he was in, up to November of the year before he attacked Jessica. In November, he was monitored; he showed up all the places he was supposed to; he checked in with his probation supervisors, and the day that he took off that GPS, he stopped checking in.
 He moved from the state of Georgia to the state of Florida. He got a part-time job with a contractor who was working at Jessica's school. That was November. In February, he kidnapped Jessica out of her bedroom window late at night and murdered her over a three-day process.
 While he (had been) on GPS, he did what he was supposed to do. That's why we're so committed to GPS as not only a tool in terms of keeping an eye, but also to monitor behavior, and changed behavior. That won't work 100 percent of the time, but it does a lot.

Signal: Didn't the governor sign a number of bills recently that do the things Proposition 83 would do?

Runner: Once we actually got this on the ballot, the Democrats in the Legislature said, "Oh, my goodness, we'd better do something." So they began to basically copy all of the sentence enhancements that we have under Jessica's Law and put them into law — which is fine. We're very glad for that. We were supportive. We actually worked with them to make sure that there were not conflicts between what we were doing in the Legislature and what the people were going to be voting on in November. So we're glad that we did that, we're glad the Legislature did it. The only reason the Legislature did that is because the people were going to be voting on it in November.

Signal: So what's left?

Runner: What the key issue is, it's still important to do. No. 1, even what came out of the Legislature didn't (change) the sexually violent predator law. Even under (the current) law, it takes two victims in order to be a sexually violent predator.
 In Jessica's Law, we said, if these penalties are decreased that the voters voted on, it's going to take a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to do that. If it was just the statute that was just passed this year, the Legislature could roll those back with a simple majority.

Signal: Does that happen? Does the Legislature ever actually roll back tough-on-crime laws?

Runner: Absolutely. We have an attack on three strikes going on right now, and it would pass out of this Legislature if (not for the voter initiative). The same thing took place with three strikes: Three strikes was voted on by the Legislature, and then was voted on by the people of California with that provision, two-thirds protection. As a result, they've been able to get a majority to change on three strikes, but they've not been able to get the two-thirds.
 So I think it's a key issue, yes. I think starting next year, you'd see these individuals start saying, "Well, child pornography, maybe it (shouldn't be) one piece, it should be four pieces." And all of a sudden, you'd start to see the majority rolling back on those issues.
 Now, I'm secure that as long as you have Gov. Schwarzenegger there, he's not going to let that take place. But I don't know what the next governor may do 10 (or even) five years from now.

Signal: Why you? Why Sharon? Why this? Do we have an abnormally high number of child molesters in the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys?

Runner: No, I don't think so. No, I think it's a threat that we see across the nation. I think as people watch the news, whether it's the L.A. stations or the national cable, they know that this is a problem that's pervasive across America.
 Why do we do this? I think it was more of a frustration — it was a frustration that we couldn't get these laws done that made a lot of sense, and we knew that once we took it to the public, they would be voting for it.
 That's why any poll that we've taken, between 75 and 85 percent of the people of California support this. We knew that we could take this to the public and it would be one that they would agree with.

Signal: So is Proposition 83 going to pass?

Runner: Our polls show that it will be 80 percent-plus. We think that it's just one of those statements which people understand. They're frustrated. They don't understand why the Legislature couldn't do this in the first place.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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