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Offender auto plates are a bad idea

3-11-2008 California:

Maldonado’s plan is open to vigilantism and impossible to enforce

We have no doubt that state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, is sincerely motivated by a desire to protect children, but his proposal to require special license plates for convicted sex offenders is ill-advised and, because it could give children a false sense of security, possibly even dangerous.

We also take issue with Maldonado’s reasoning. He believes that because sex offenders often use their vehicles as instruments of crime they should be singled out for special treatment.

Applying that same logic, shouldn’t we require OFENDER plates for repeat drunken drivers? Drive-by shooters? Hit-and-run drivers?

As Maldonado points out, sexual abuse has devastating lifelong consequences for victims and their families. We respectfully point out that having a child killed or maimed by a drunken driver is also devastating. If we’re going to go down this road to protect the public— especially our children—shouldn’t we apply this concept equally?

The answer is no, we shouldn’t apply it at all because there are too many problems with a proposal such as Maldonado’s.

Here are some:

• The law would be impossible to enforce. What’s to stop a sex offender from borrowing a car or, for that matter, from switching license plates? Children —and adults, for that matter—could be lulled into thinking drivers pose no danger because they don’t have special plates, when they are indeed convicted sex offenders.

• It would encourage vigilantism. The law would include a provision punishing people who harass sex offenders because of the plates. Even so, some would no doubt see it as an invitation to vandalize the car and/or harass or harm the driver.

• Because the majority of sex offenses are committed by a friend or relative of the victim—not by a stranger—the law would not be effective in preventing most cases.

Unfortunately, California already has one law cracking down on sex offenders that’s proven ineffective and impossible to enforce. Jessica’s Law, passed by California voters in 2006, put more restrictions on where sex offenders can live and, as a result, experts say that more sex offenders are homeless, making them harder to track and a greater danger to the public.

Also, a provision requiring global-positioning devices for ex-offenders will cost millions of dollars — but it’s unclear who has to foot the bill.

Given the state’s financial mess, we don’t need another law that will wind up costing more money to achieve questionable results.

If there is money available, let’s spend it on educating children on how to protect themselves, on counseling victims of sexual abuse—so they don’t grow up to become abusers themselves —and on enforcing laws already on the books, rather than passing a new law that would be ineffectual at best and harmful at worst. ..more.. Editorial Opinion of The Tribune

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