Lawmakers consider changing penalties for sex offenders

A bill to modify the state’s law on people charged civilly, but not criminally, with child sexual abuse had its first hearing Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee.

House Bill 689 would double the statute of limitations, from two years to four, for prosecuting a mandatory reporter who failed to report child abuse, said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. That is the longest period for any misdemeanor offense, he said.

For cases in which the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex offenders has expired, legislation in 2006 established a civil-judgment process that allowed accused offenders to be put on a civil sex offender registry at any time, separate from the registry for those who were criminally convicted, Seitz said.

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That law established a criminal penalty for not complying with the registry, but courts said a criminal penalty couldn’t be attached to a civil offense, he said. So HB 689 makes noncompliance with registering a civil violation, punishable by a fine up to $2,500.

“It doesn’t change the criminal penalties on child sexual abuse at all,” Seitz said.

Likewise, the bill repeals the earlier law’s criminal prohibition for a person on the civil registry to live within 1,000 feet of a school; but it allows civil actions against a person who does so, according to a bill analysis by the state Legislative Service Commission.

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The bill also allows victims to bring legal action to put someone on the civil registry in cases where a prosecutor declines to file criminal charges, Seitz said.

State legislators kicked off their five-week lame-duck session with a full day of hearings, though those bills coming up for the first time Tuesday face an uphill battle to get through both chambers before the session ends. Any bills not making the grade would have to be re-filed for consideration by the 135th General Assembly, which convenes in January.

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