SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would allow a limited group of offenders to petition a court to get off Utah's sex offender registry after five years was approved Tuesday by the Utah House Judiciary Committee on an 8-4 vote.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, who is sponsoring HB13, said it gives those convicted of the "two least egregious (sexual) offenses" a chance to get off the state registry if a judge determines they're no longer a threat to society.
"I am trying to bring some opportunity for redemption from someone who's really paid the price and tried to get their life back in order," Draxler told committee members.
But other legislators expressed concerns that many who might be eligible under the proposal would be more serious offenders whose charges had been reduced by plea arrangements. Others worried that victims would be unnecessarily re-victimized.
In presenting his proposal, Draxler repeated the case of a convicted sex offender that he mentions often.
About 10 years ago, a 19-year-old man who had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend was convicted of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. The couple later married and now has four children.
But because he has been required to be listed on the Utah Sex Offender and Kidnap Offender Registry for 10 years, he cannot go to the park with his children, attend his child's parent-teacher conferences and there are restrictions of where he can work and live.
Speaking in opposition to the bill, Mel Wilson, who represents the Utah Council for Victims of Crime, said, "This is one of the most difficult issues that we have presented before us in the criminal justice system.
"We're very sympathetic to the issue," he said, but added that the victims' council decided the bill does not adequately address the issue.
Wilson said council members looked over numerous probation reports and figure that of 250 offenders on the registry for the two offenses under the bill, "very few would fit what we called the Romeo-and-Juliet scenarios — only about two."
As of July 15, the sex offender registry listed 47 offenders who've been convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, and 218 convicted of unlawful sexual activity with a minor (ages 14 or 15).
Not all would qualify under Draxler's proposal. Eligible offenders must have completed any treatment the court may have ordered and must have no subsequent convictions, except for traffic offenses.
To be eligible, offenders also must have complied with all registration requirements.
Draxler said he will work with opponents of the bill to address their concerns before it goes to the full House.