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More and more do you see the idea that legislators should be barred, for some extended period of time, from drafting or passing laws in the wake of some screaming headline. The emotional, panicked responses usually wind up as troubling pieces of law that have to be dealt with later, usually after creating unintended mischief. Splashy criminal cases are notorious for generating that kind of reaction.

The Joseph Edward Duncan case from last year – most of which occurred in Idaho, but was heavily covered in Washington as well – was a natural example. This is a case awash in not only murder but also sex abuse; Duncan had been convicted earlier elsewhere on sex abuse charges. The case probably does call into some question whether parts of the sex offender system are working as they should, and especially if offenders are evaluated, and then handled, correctly. But those are subtle and technical matters, and legislators tend to haul off on another track altogether.

Considering that the worst of Duncan’s presumed spree occurred in Idaho, you might expect major overreaction in Boise. But no; there are several sex offender bills on the table, but no swarm of proposals. One of those, in some ways the key measure (Senate Bill 1331) is a low-key and sensible housekeeping measure from the state parole office, straightening out the structure of psychological exams and the like.

In Olympia, on the other hand, they just went nuts.

Ask for a list of “sex offender” bills in the Washington Legislature so far this year, and here’s the list you get:

Animals, sexual contact with: SB 6417
Child molestation in first degree and rape of child in first degree, penalties: SB 6153
Child molestation in the third degree, definition: HB 2265
Child witnesses in court proceedings, provisions: * HB 1837, CH 455 (2005)
Children and vulnerable adults, protection from sex and kidnapping offenders: HB 3212
Children, criminal trespass against children by sex offenders: SB 6775
Children, penalties increased for offenses against: HB 2411, HB 3211, HB 3212
Community protection program workers, background checks: SB 6824
Community protection program, assessments for risk and/or dangerousness: SB 6630
Community protection zones, county authority to establish: SB 6832
Community protection zones, housing offenders: HB 1147, * SHB 1147, CH 436 (2005)
Community protection zones, provisions: HB 2700, HB 2735, SB 6410
Council on mentally ill offenders: HB 2732, SB 6685
Depictions of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, penalties increased: HB 2702, SB 6407
Earned release, city and county jail time: HB 1476, SHB 1476, SB 5282, SSB 5282
Electronic monitoring, global positioning system: HB 2407, HB 2413, SB 6322, SB 6476
End of sentence review, sexual dangerousness determination: HB 1978
Felonies, DNA and statute of limitations provisions: SSB 5042
Foster care, sexual relationships between foster parent and child: * SSB 5309, CH 262 (2005)
Housing stipends, distribution requirements: HB 1119
Jessica Lunsford act, penalties enhanced: SB 6389
Joint select committee on offenders programs, sentencing, and supervision: SB 6308
Juvenile offenders in schools, work groups to evaluate issues: SB 6580
Long-term care facilities, notification when sex offender placed in facility: SB 6769
Notification, public libraries: * HB 1161, CH 99 (2005)
Offender information, certain information exempt from disclosure: HB 1651, SB 5643, SSB 5643
Offender information, model policy for disclosure of: HB 2747, SB 6320
Offender information, procedures for forwarding: HB 2983, SB 6576
Parenting plans, offender visitation rights: HB 2893
Penalties, stronger: HB 2476, HB 2709, HB 2755, HB 2918, SB 6172, SB 6314, SB 6315, SB 6389
Possession of depictions of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct,: HB 2410, SB 6465
Rape of child in 1st degree/child molestation 1st degree, mandatory life sentence: HB 2783
Rape of child in first degree and child molestation in first degree, penalties: SB 6153
Rape of child in first degree, penalties: HB 2469, HB 2709
Rape of child in second degree, penalties: HB 2467
Rape of child in third degree and child molestation in third degree, two strike offenses: HB 2782
Rape, penalties for first degree rape increased: HB 2094, HB 2709
Records, electronic storage: HB 1337, * SHB 1337, CH 227 (2005)
Records, fee exemption for law enforcement agencies: HB 2223, * SHB 2223, CH 202 (2005)
Records, vacating conviction records: HB 1234
Registration, additional requirements for level III offenders: HB 2492, SB 6405
Registration, employment and residence in different counties: HB 1334, SHB 1334
Registration, homeless offenders: SB 6634
Registration, kidnappers added to statewide sex offender web site: * HB 1338, CH 228 (2005)
Registration, new or returning residents: HB 1277, HB 1334, SHB 1334
Registration, provisions strengthened: SB 6319
Registration, provisions strengthened for sex offenders and kidnappers: HB 2409, SB 6319
Registration, retroactive requirements on offenders who leave and return to state: SB 6144
Registration, verification twice a year that information is accurate: SB 6519
Registration, violation penalties increased: HB 2412, HB 3037
Residence restrictions and community protection zones: SB 6325
School employees or teachers, notice of conviction or guilty plea: * HB 2058, CH 237 (2005)
Schools, offender registration and school enrollment requirements: HB 1201, HB 1378, * HB 2101, CH 380 (2005)
Secure community transition facilities, transportation plans: SB 5130
Secure community transition facilities, transportation plans for McNeil Island: SSB 5130
Sentencing and disposition alternatives, provisions: HB 2703, SB 6409
Sentencing, condition for special sex offender alternative: HB 2003, SB 6321, SB 6669
Sentencing, enhancements for crimes committed with a sexual motivation: HB 2699, SB 6460
Sentencing, special sex offender sentencing alternative release evaluation: HB 1231
Sexual assault protection orders: HB 2576, SB 6478
Sexual matter or performance harmful to minors, penalties for display or dissemination: HB 1655
Sexual misconduct with a minor, penalties and provisions: HB 2533
Sexual misconduct with a minor, taking advantage of personal relationship/familiarity: HB 2247
Sexually violent offenders, apprehension of conditionally released persons: HB 3205
Sexually violent offenders, petition for conditional release: * SB 5582, CH 344 (2005)
Sexually violent predators, definition of aggravated first degree murder: SB 6154
Sexually violent predators, release provisions: SB 5129
Special sex offender alternative sentencing, study: SB 6834
Statute of limitations removed for certain offenses against minors: HB 1453, SHB 1453
Statute of limitations, modifications for felony offenders: HB 2408, HB 2698, SB 6408
Treatment providers, providers who are sex offenders: HB 2654

All that, of course, is on top of the mega-proposal Republicans wanted passed, sight unseen, on the first day of the session.

Should sex offender laws be revisited? Maybe. Probably could be improved upon. But a list like this suggests that now is sure not the time to do it.

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