Sex offenders register for a lifetime, but a bill would let some petition for removal


By Kathryn Hardison
Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — Almost all sex offenders in Missouri are on a state registry for a lifetime, whether they made a one-time mistake, or committed repeated or extreme offenses.

Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, wants to make it possible for certain people to petition to remove their name from the list and for the registry to be more transparent for the public.

A Senate committee heard a bill last week that already has passed the Missouri House which would do three things:

  • Require stricter background checks for those wishing to work in a child-care facility.
  • Impose a mandatory life sentence without eligibility for parole for a person convicted of a predatory sexual offense.
  • Create a tiered system to allow sex offenders to petition to be removed from the sex offender registry.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol registered sex offender report, which is updated daily, indicates that there are around 15,500 sex offenders in the state who are not in prison.

Bahr’s bill, HB 2042, would create a tiered system, similar to what the federal government uses, to make it possible for people who have committed an offense that falls into the first two tiers to petition to have their name removed from the registry.

Those whose offenses fall into tier one would be able to petition after 10 years of good standing, and those in tier two could petition after 25 years. Sex offenders who fall into tier three, who have committed repeated and more serious crimes, would be on the registry for a lifetime.

Ryan Glidwell, who spoke in support of the bill, is a registered sex offender who testified that he made a “10-second mistake” almost 15 years ago when he flashed a minor over an internet webcam. Though he’s completed his probation, he will be on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life unless Bahr’s bill becomes law.

“This bill recognizes that there is a need to define the predatory and persistent (offenses), that treating a group of individuals with a one-size-fits-all approach might not be the best way,” Glidwell said. “And this bill takes into consideration that, over time, some people do, by the grace of God, change.”

The registry is “incredibly broken,” testified Glidwell’s fiancee, Hannah Guffey.

“While I am a proponent of having a registry, it is critical to be open to realizing that there might be a more effective way to distinguish between people who have made mistakes and people that have problems,” she said.

Guffey said because there are so many people on the registry, it’s hard to know which individuals she should be wary of.

Bahr echoed this idea and said his bill could help make the process and registry more clear for the public.

“With the list right now, you don’t know what the offender is. Is the guy down the street — is he a rapist or did he flash somebody on Skype?” Bahr said. “This bill would state the nature of the charge, as well as the tier, so it gives the public more information to make a better decision as to what threat is this person.”

Bahr said with the tiered system and clarification of sexual offenses in the bill, every sex offender will not be punished the same way.

“The problem with the status quo is that you have people who have committed significant crimes who are punished at the same level of those who have committed crimes that are much less significant,” Bahr said.

Phil Ruth, also a registered sex offender, spoke in opposition because the bill is not based on an individual assessment. Ruth said he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life because he falls into tier three under Bahr’s bill.

“I think we should all care about whether sex offenders feel marginalized, feel like they don’t have no place in their community … feel like they have no reason to try, that’s when they’re dangerous,” he said.

But he encouraged the committee to consider a provision that would allow a person who lives crime-free for a longer, specific period of time to have “an end to this.”

The bill also distinguishes different kinds of sexual offenses and imposes a lifetime sentence with no eligibility for parole for those who commit a predatory sexual offense.

A predatory sexual offense, as defined in the bill documents, is the offense of statutory rape, statutory sodomy, rape, sodomy, child molestation and sexual abuse all of the first degree, plus child molestation of the second degree. The penalty would be life without parole, which is a possibility for predatory offenders but not mandatory as it would be under this new legislation.

A prior sex offender is defined in the legislation as someone who has been found guilty once before of a sexual offense, and a persistent sex offender has been found guilty at least twice. The bill would make the penalty of being a prior or persistent sex offender one or two felony classes higher than it was originally, depending on the severity of the case.

In 2017, there were 76 offenders in Missouri who were sentenced as a predatory, prior or persistent sex offender, according to documents provided with the bill. Twenty-two of these offenders were sentenced to probation.

The bill carries a fiscal note of around $808,000 of general revenue funds for fiscal year 2019, but by 2028, it is expected to have cost $2 million in general revenue funds. This is because of an increase in background-check fees and the increase in prisoners.

By fiscal year 2028, if the bill is passed, the prison population is expected to increase by 196 offenders, according to bill documents.

Representatives from the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Kids Win Missouri, Missouri Kids First and Women Against Registry also spoke in support of the bill.