What to do about sexual predators

It is perhaps the least discussable issue on Tuesday’s ballot, and not because it involves sophisticated economic analysis, as state initiatives increasingly do. No, it’s the topic that makes normal people not even want to think about Proposition 83: sexual predators and what to do about them.

This is California’s version of “Jessica’s Law,” enacted first in Florida after little Jessica Lunsford was abducted, brutally raped and murdered by a previous sexual offender who’d prowled through society because of lax legal restrictions. Several states have enacted their versions, each supported by law enforcement.

Sexual predators are the criminals most likely to repeat their offenses, so the authors of Prop. 83 have put before voters tough language that would require convicted predators to serve their full sentences. The measure would force released prisoners to wear global positioning devices.

It gets better. Prop. 83 would prohibit a registered offender from taking up residence within 2,000 feet of schools, day care centers and parks. If that restriction makes house-hunting difficult for predators, a source of misplaced solicitude for some civil libertarians, it gives parents a greater sense of security than they now enjoy.

Opponents argue two salient objections: 1. The initiative was drafted by conservatives as a wedge issue to test more liberal candidates’ fealty to family values. 2. Its unintended consequences, upon passage, will burst onto society and heighten the danger to children living in hitherto safe rural communities.

It’s true that wedge issues have begun to litter the political landscape. But this issue is real, crossing state line after state line.

And it does appear likely, as Assemblyman Mark Leno patiently explained to us, that the impossible residence restriction will prod these predators out of the cities and into less populated regions, loading new burdens onto once-contented communities. But electronic monitoring eases that anxiety considerably.

What the initiative’s tender-hearted opponents don’t seem to grasp is that these efforts actually constitute a humane alternative to the harsh, even capital, punishment meted out in other societies for these abominations. They assert the primacy of innocent life, as we trust a healthy-minded electorate will do by voting “Yes” on Proposition 83.

Part of the San Francisco Examiner's election coverage.

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