star-telegram.com : In Texas Legislature, not all bills seek tougher rules for sex offenders.
Austin — Some state lawmakers want to tweak how Texas deals with sex offenders, sparking a thorny debate over how to strike the right balance between protecting children and allowing low-risk offenders to avoid a lifetime of shame.
Bills this session would regulate how sex offenders use the Internet, bar them from certain jobs and require homeless offenders to report regularly to law enforcement agencies.
There is also a pushback of sorts from those who feel that the current laws may go too far.
Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, filed what he has called his "teenage lovers bill" in March. The bill would let defendants petition a judge to exempt them as a registered sex offender under a strict set of circumstances: the age-based offense was consensual, the victim is at least 13 years old and the defendant is no more than four years older than the victim.
"A lot of the cases that we see that are truly 'Romeo and Juliet,’ there’s usually more than a four-year difference," said Johnson, who added that she wasn’t opposed to the bill.
Phillip Taylor, a Dallas therapist who has treated sex offenders, questions the value of closely monitoring low-risk sex offenders.
"The assumption seems to be that there’s a zero-sum game and any law that makes things more difficult for someone who is labeled a sex offender somehow benefits society or benefits the victim," Taylor said. "It’s an odd notion."
This legislative session, groups such as San Antonio-based Texas Voices, which supports Smith’s bill, have been out in force at committee hearings advocating for changing the laws to put less of a burden on low-risk offenders.
Allison Taylor, executive director of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, has said that she would like to see the state switch to "risk-based registration" that takes into account that not everyone on the registry is a child predator.
She said the burden of having a relative on the registry, especially the distance requirements from places children gather, falls on the whole family.
"If he’s with me, I have to stop and think about everything I do," she said. "He can’t go to McDonald’s."
She said she hopes lawmakers consider whether everyone on the list should be treated as a threat to children.
"I’m not proud of what he did, but for him to pay the rest of his life is ridiculous," she said. "He’s not a child molester."
"One of the next steps I suppose is maybe we ought to tattoo these people," said Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston. "Therefore everyone would know who they are, and that’s what frightens me about this. Sometimes I think government reaches too far, and I think this is one of those times."