In a Capitol news conference Wednesday, Assemblyman Pedro Nava had one clear cut message:
"We cannot continue to hand out get out of jail free cards" the Santa Barbara Democrat said Wednesday, in introducing two measures AB 61 and AB 168, that would crackdown on sexually violent juveniles who commit rape, sodomy and other lewd acts.
"The state of the law as it exists today means that a juvenile can commit these kind of crimes," Nava said. Then he added, "And then they can have them erased, eliminated, they disappear from their juvenile record."
California currently allows sexual offenders under eighteen to plead guilty, complete probation - and then the crimes are wiped clean from their record, even though many offenders commit the same crimes all over again.
"There is in some sex crimes up to a 75% recidivism rate among juveniles," said Ron Cottingham of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, one of the many law enforcement groups participating in the Capitol event Wednesday.
Sex crimes committed by people under 18 have increased roughly 40% nationally in the past twenty years, the bills' advocates said today. They want to make juvenile records permanent and allow California judges to see them before an offender is released from prison later in life.
"We feel that the information is critical to making sure that these individuals are dealt with appropriately in the criminal justice system," said Dawn Sanders Koepke of Crime Victims United. While the "get tough on crime" bills have broad support from victims groups and law enforcement agencies, there is also strong opposition at the Capitol.
"No one excuses these type of horrific crimes," stated Matt Gray of Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety. "The problem is the legislature is still doing nothing to prevent the crime, there's no rehabilitation, no intervention or prevention."
The first test for the bills comes next Tuesday, March 31, in a hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Yet the coalition of crime fighters is ready for the battle at the Capitol.
There is a political hook to this story of course. The author, Assemblyman Pedro Nava just happens to be considering a run for California's Attorney General. Nava has already set up a campaign account for the 2010 race and he knows it never hurts to be called "tough on crime" when you're auditioning for a gig as California's top cop.