Sex offender? Pack your bags

On the Megan’s Law map of Chico, the sky-blue squares signify registered sex offenders. And of the city’s 132 registered offenders, there are quite a few blue squares just blocks from schools and parks.

Many of these people would have to move if activists and Republican legislators including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger succeed in passing a California version of “Jessica’s Law,” named for the 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom and killed by a neighbor, a registered sex offender.

If passed, the new law would create a “predator-free zone” forbidding registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet—about one-third of a mile—from both public and private schools, as well as parks frequented by children.

A look at the Chico-area map generated by found at least three registered sex offenders living within a half-mile of McManus, Citrus, Parkview and Chapman elementaries. Five live that close to Hooker Oak, including one man living only one-tenth of a mile away who was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 by force.

“The office is well aware,” said Maureen Stuempfig, principal of Hooker Oak Elementary School. “We have gotten on the Web and have pictures that we keep private in the office. We’re aware of the faces and the names, and [so is] the nursery school across the street.”

But Stuempfig isn’t sure Jessica’s Law is the answer. “It would make my job easier but I don’t know how fair that would be to the individuals … as far as due process or rights, especially if you’ve done your time. Where does it end?”

Many state Democrats apparently have similar misgivings.

Senate Bill 588 and Assembly Bill 231 are currently stuck in public safety committees, and their sponsors, including husband-wife legislators Sen. George and Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, aren’t optimistic they can best a Legislature dominated by Democrats, who say the bills not only raise civil liberties issues, but would cost $500 million a year in new expenses.

So, members of the Sacramento-based Campaign for Child Safety are set to start gathering signatures Sept. 19 in an attempt to get the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act of 2006 on the June 2006 ballot.

Calling sex offenders “cowards” at an Aug. 16 press conference, Schwarzenegger said if the Legislature doesn’t pass the pair of bills, he will push to get the measure on the ballot. “We want these criminals off the streets and away from our schools and children.”

An existing law bars people convicted of certain sex offenses against children from living within a quarter mile of K-8 schools, but the exile ends when their parole does.

Besides determining where registered sex offenders would live, SB 588 and AB 231 would: Require those released on parole to wear GPS tracking systems for life, potentially charge possession of child pornography as a felony, forbid time off for “good behavior” for imprisoned sex offenders, label someone a “sexually violent predator” after one crime rather than two and increase mandatory sentences for a variety of sex crimes.