Lawmakers back scaled-down GPS tracking for sex offenders
February 20, 2008
DENVER – Violent sex offenders would have to wear GPS tracking devices under a bill backed by state lawmakers on Wednesday after they heard emotional testimony from a Florida man whose daughter was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.Mark Lunsford told the House Judiciary Committee about seeing 9-year-old Jessica’s fingers poking through the plastic bag that her body was found in. She had been buried alive and must have been struggling for air, he said.”I am sure when she was dying, she was crying for me,” said Lunsford, who has lobbied for similar bills across the country.He said his daughter’s killer took her from her bedroom three months after authorities removed a GPS device he had been wearing.In Colorado, about 50 of the 1,300 sex offenders who are out on parole or probation wear GPS devices.The panel unanimously approved a bill that would require GPS monitors on everyone classified as a sexually violent predator, which includes people convicted of first-degree sexual assault or sexual assault on a child.It wasn’t immediately clear how many people that would cover. Rep. Bob Gardner said 91 sexually violent predators who are not in prison are now living Colorado, and several hundred more are still in prison but could someday be released.He didn’t know how many of the 50 people already being monitored are labeled as sexually violent predators.Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, originally wanted to monitor all 1,300 sex offenders in Colorado, with the offenders footing the bill.But that would have cost a total of $4 million a year. State officials estimated only about 10 percent of the offenders would be able to cover the cost of monitoring, which ranges from $10 to $15 a day depending on how often they are checked.Other lawmakers balked at spending that much money. They also questioned the need to monitor people classified as sex offenders for such minor convictions as streaking or urinating in public.Despite the scaled-down scope, Gardner called the bill a good first step and said he was surprised it passed at all.Lunsford said he preferred more monitoring of all sex offenders, saying they tend to increase the severity of their crimes over time. But he too called the Colorado bill a good start.”By all means, let’s monitor the worst of the worst first,” he said after the hearing.The bill now must go before another committee to determine whether the state can afford it.Stacie Rumenap, executive director of Stop Child Predators, who also backed the bill, said 33 other states have passed laws requiring GPS monitoring for sex offenders since Jessica’s murder. She said most have a tiered system where offenders at most risk of repeat crimes are monitored for life while others are monitored while on probation, which can last for years.Some states have also passed laws limited how close sex offenders can live to parks or schools. Rep. State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said she preferred GPS monitoring to limiting where sex offenders can live.The man convicted of raping and killing Jessica, John Evander Couey, was designated a sex offender for exposing himself to a 5-year-old girl in 1991. He has been sentenced to death in Jessica’s slaying.