The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 6, 2013

Legislature considering tougher laws against Oklahoma sex offenders

Staff and wire reports
Enid News and Eagle

— Oklahoma sex offenders who claim state laws make it practically impossible to return to productive lives are finding little sympathy before a Legislature that cannot stomach their crimes, even if they don’t involve young children.

“All I ask is that you not view all of us as monsters,” Regina McKay, a former teacher convicted of second-degree rape involving a 17-year-old male, told a House committee last week, as it considered tougher laws against sex offenders.

Oklahoma’s sex offender registry includes those convicted of a broad swath of crimes, not just those against children, but some lawmakers argue the very nature of those crimes makes it imperative to crack down on offenders.

“I will always vote to be the one that’s tough on crime,” Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, recently argued during debate over a bill to impose mandatory prison sentences for those who fail to register. “I want us to remember that the people that are registering here include people who are rapists, child molesters. These are people that have done heinous crimes to members of our communities.”

McKay testified before legislators as the House considers laws that would keep sex offenders out of state parks and prohibit them from going to schools unescorted if their victim was younger than age 18 — rather than 13, as the current law reads. It passed on a 12-1 vote.

“I’ve tried to stay out of the legislative fight for the past few years, because it’s become so depressing for me and my family, until these bills hit the floor this year,” Regina McKay told the unsympathetic panel. “If bills like this pass, I will not be allowed to go to my nieces’ and nephews’ birthday parties. I will not be allowed to go walking in the park with my husband. I will not be allowed to pick up my children when they’re sick unless I have a chaperone with me. That’s impossible.”

Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, said his vote in favor of the escort bill was easy to defend.

“The whole motive of that bill is to further protect children, and that’s got to be our No. 1 concern, and that’s my concern every time I vote on one of these pieces of legislation,” Jordan said.

Two years ago, sex offenders testified against a bill that would have chased them from an Oklahoma City trailer park. When the bill passed, many moved to tents on the park’s outskirts. In the state Supreme Court, justices currently are considering whether it is legal to make registry laws retroactive. Two plaintiffs in the case claim they are exempt from the state’s sex offender registry rules because their crimes pre-date the creation of the registry in 1989.

Enid Police Department Chief Brian O’Rourke said his department will enforce the laws passed by the Legislature, but said too many restrictions could result in less compliance.

“Obviously, they’re making the laws tighter and tighter, but with their legislation it’s making it more difficult to enforce and easier for offenders to make a mistake or get so frustrated they try to duck the rules and regulations and not register,” he said. “It’s much better to know where they’re at.”

O’Rourke said the department was in favor of mandatory jail time for those who fail to register.

In the course of his career, O’Rourke said he has worked some sex crimes and said those who now are required to register are doing so because of their actions.

“These are choices that people made,” he said. “I honestly don’t see the serious sex offender being an accidental crime, by any means. There is a steep price to pay.”

Garfield County Sheriff Jerry Niles said the department’s biggest concern is for the safety of local communities.

He said he thinks the Legislature is following the wants of its constituents.

“We do encourage them (to register) and we do check on them,” Nile said. “We see a pretty good compliance.

“We had several calls last year about people sleeping in tents along the railroad right of way,” he said. “We also know some of the extended-stay hotels are being used by registered offenders, because it’s the only place not within the prohibited areas within the prohibited distance of schools, day cares and parks.”

The American Civil Liberties Union says recidivism rates for sex offenders are much lower for sex offenders (slightly more than 5 percent) than for those convicted of robbery, burglary or larceny (above 70 percent). The figures are from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“We also know these bills and current statutes make us less safe as a society by marginalizing those that have to go on the sex offender registry,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oklahoma chapter.

Jason Oss, who was convicted of lewd or indecent proposal to a child in Pittsburg County, said he’s met several offenders through his court-ordered counseling sessions that can’t find work and become homeless because of the current restrictions. He said a law passed a few years ago that requires the words “Sex Offender” to be printed on their driver’s licenses also is a problem.

“Let’s say you’re applying for a job. You can’t escape it. I know a guy who got beat up in a convenience store because of when he was ID’d for a pack of cigarettes,” Oss said. “It’s the scarlet letter of our time, for God’s sake. It really is. For some people, one little tiny mistake can blow up their whole life.”

News & Eagle staff writer Cass Rains contributed to this Associated Press story.