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Senate bill toughens penalties on sex offenders

People convicted of sexually abusing a child under the age of 12 would spend least 25 years in prison under legislation 45 of the 50 state senators are co-sponsoring. Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, a Republican from Ankeny, says the bill also would give judges the discretion to put some pedophiles in prison for life. "What it says is Iowa's going to adopt a zero tolerance policy for adults who prey on young children," Lamberti says.

Lamberti says if the law had been in effect "several years ago," Roger Bentley -- the alleged murderer of Jetsetta Gage who is on trial today in Davenport -- would have been in prison "and she would be alive today." "That's the kind of message we want to send that we are going to get tough," Lamberti says. "That's how we make our streets safer." The measure also establishes a new and significant penalty for those who "harbor" a sex offender in their home. A person found guilty of helping a sex offender elude or hide from police could be sent to prison for five years if the bill becomes law.

Senate Co-Leader Michael Gronstal, a Democrat from , says 80 percent of sex crimes are committed by friends, family and acquaintances of the person who's abused. Gronstal says the bill is not a "panacea" but will hopefully send the message that everyone needs to be attentive and vigilant. "We will not tolerate the sex offender and we will not tolerate the people (who) empower the sex offenders by staying silent or by harboring those kinds of criminals," Gronstal says.

Senator Larry McKibben, a Republican from Marshalltown, concedes the bill is just "one piece of the puzzle" of what must be done to deal with sex offenders, but he calls it a good start. "Florida claims to be the toughest sex offender laws," McKibben says. "Iowa should be number one in the nation. That's one thing we ought to lead with, along with corn and beans. We ought to be the safest place to live for young children."

 

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