Writings and observations

Jessica and Vicki

Emotion spilled all over the floor of the Oregon Senate toward the end of Thursday’s brief special session. That will happen when the subject is child sex abuse.

The emotion came in part from Senator Bruce Starr, a Hillsoboro Republican, who had pushed a very similar measure in the 2005 session. “Jessica’s Law” – another of those measures named for a victim of a horrific crime – is relatively narrow, and easily gets widespread support. It applies to adults who sexually molest children under 12, and requires both a 25-year sentence and lifetime monitoring, since so many such offenders are compulsive re-offenders.

House Bill 3507 passed the House in 2005 and quickly got the support of most senators, but became snared in the Senate-House cross-battles over legislation, and died at session’s end. Hardly anyone felt good about that, and when Governor Ted Kulongoski ordered up a special session, Senate President Peter Courtney pushed through inclusion of Jessica’s.

In the meantime, it had become the subject of a major initiative campaign which seemed likely to get it on the ballot and to pass it; Starr was much involved with that as well. And he talked at length Thursday, sometimes in circular fashion. But he sounded a grateful note Thursday – he might have understandably felt undercut at this point – as the proposal approached its final passage (30-0) in the Senate.

Vicki WalkerA rather different note came from another bill supporter, Eugene Democrat Vicki Walker.

Her story was personal. She started out withthe blunt statement, “I was raped when I was five years old,” and went on from there through experiences that went on more than a decade. She warned that most child sex abusers are family, neighbors or friends of the family, and cited personal experience to back that up.

You could see the senators squirming as they listened (she acknowledged the discomfort in the room as she was speaking), but the unease came not only from her personal story, harrowing as it was, but also from her legislative point: That crafting legislation which reaches into families, which aims at holding families together while also protecting children, is a tough thing to do. She and other senators are at work on it, she noted, and noted as well that the effort has drawn concern from a range of quarters. And that battle, she suggested, hasn’t even properly begun.

“I’m sorry this offended some of your sensibilities,” she said near the end. That sounded almost like a warning: If she’s re-elected and back in the chamber in January, that offense may continue.

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