Senate nears approval of bill imposing harsher penalties on sex offenders

? Tougher penalties for sex offenders, especially those who victimize children, would be imposed under legislation advanced Thursday by the Senate.

After the bill gained first-round approval, a final vote sending it to the House was delayed until this morning because some senators wanted time to review the final version. Senate leaders said they expected the measure to pass.

Under the bill, a minimum 25-year sentence would be imposed on adults convicted of any of seven violent sex crimes against anyone younger than 14, including rape, aggravated sodomy and sexual exploitation of a child. Trial judges could impose a lesser penalty in cases where there’s “substantial and compelling” reasons.

Once imprisoned, offenders wouldn’t get any time reduction for good behavior, meaning they must serve every day of their sentence. Once released, they would face a lifetime of parole and must wear a Global Positioning System monitoring bracelet so their movements could be tracked.

Those convicted a second time, no matter the victim’s age, face a 40-year sentence. Life behind bars with no chance of parole applies to a third conviction. Convictions before the law goes on the books are counted toward the three.

All other sex offenders, such as first-time convictions where the victim is older than 14, face lifetime parole when released. If they violate parole, then they must wear the tracking bracelet for life.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said he was drafting another bill to rewrite civil laws dealing with sex offenders, including requiring registered sex offenders to live a specific distance from schools and renew their driver’s license annually. It also would expand the Kansas Bureau of Investigation list of sex offenders.

While most senators spoke in favor of the harsher punishments, much of the discussion was about how many more prison beds would be needed and how much they would cost.

Senate Judiciary Chairman John Vratil said one estimate is there could be the need for an additional 74 beds next year and that would increase to 1,000 by 2016. That, he said, would mean more prison space.

“It’ll be a hefty price tag, but the price of a child is limitless,” said Vratil, R-Leawood.

Only Sen. Roger Reitz said he would vote against the bill because there’s no money included to pay for additional prison space.

“If we’re going to do something about these folks, we need to pay for it up front,” said Reitz, R-Manhattan. “How can we be talking about taking care of our miscreants when we’re not talking about costs?”

There have been suggestions that longer prison terms for sex offenders might save the state money. When released, offenders often face civil commitment to the Kansas Sexual Predator Treatment Program at Larned State Hospital, which costs three times more than keeping them in prison.

“Up to this point in time, we’ve seen no great rate of success to cure sex offenders,” Vratil said.