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March 19, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Sex Offender Bill Stalls in Senate

AUSTIN - A bill that would have required predatory sex offenders to stay at least 1,000 feet, under any circumstances, from places where children gather stalled in the Senate today.

Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, the author of Senate Bill (SB) 107, pointed to a recent case in which a facility in Del Valle was located across the street from an elementary school.

"Sex offenders, with multiple convictions of sexual crimes against children, are living on the same block as daycare facilities," Barrientos said. "What is worse than that is that the state, through our parole division, is approving these sex offenders to reside in these locations."

A group of senators, led by John Whitmire of Houston and Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth opposed SB 107, citing concerns about parole offices within the 1,000 feet boundary and also what would be done with the offenders if the facilities were forced to close.

"They (facilities) currently comply with the existing law, which is 500 feet. You're trying to change that," Moncrief said. "That means that these facilities have to shut down, senator, and when that happens, these individuals have to go somewhere. Where are they going to go?"

Whitmire said he opposed SB 107 because it would cause 12 facilities and numerous parole offices around the state to close, leaving the question of where sex offenders would be housed and treated.

After a lengthy, heated debate, an amendment Whitmire sponsored was adopted that would have allowed offenders to meet with parole officers, attend treatment meetings and live under court order in a facility or house within the boundary proposed by SB 107.

"It's much better for us to know where they are when they are receiving treatment in these halfway houses than to be AWOL and no one know where they are," Moncrief said. "That just makes good sense."

Barrientos moved to table the amendment, but the motion was defeated, with 18 voting against tabling and 10 for. After Barrientos' motion to table failed, the amendment was adopted on a voice vote.

Upon adoption of Whitmire's amendment, Barrientos tabled SB 107, saying the amendment "guts" the bill.

After session, Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff spoke with reporters about several high-profile issues, including proposals to simplify the Medicaid enrollment process.

Ratliff said he supports the idea, but added that, as with many proposals in the Legislature this session, the budget will be the deciding factor.

"There are a number of things that can be done, all of which could be classified as simplification," Ratliff said. "So I would want to know what the chances are of funding it."

Ratliff said he has meetings scheduled with members of the Senate, including Finance Committee Chair Rodney Ellis of Houston, to try to determine what can be done within the budget.

The Senate stands adjourned until 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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