Signatures Sought for Chelsea's Law

By Gene Cubbison
|  Friday, May 7, 2010  |  Updated 11:45 AM PDT
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Images: The Chelsea King Case

NBCSanDiego

Brent and Kelly King on March 24

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Governor Schwarzenegger is on board with it. Ditto for Assembly Speaker John Perez.

The Assembly's Public Safety Committee endorsed it last month on a 5-0 bipartisan vote.

And there's such popular momentum that behind it that Assembly Bill 1844, known as "Chelsea's Law", would seem a slam dunk to become part of the California Penal Code.

It targets violent sexual predators for longer prison terms -- including one-strike, life without parole for child molesters whose victims are under 14 -- and stricter parole conditions.

AB 1844 is named for 17-year-old Chelsea King, the Poway High cross-country runner and band musician who was raped and fatally strangled in late February by 31-year-old John Albert Gardner III, a paroled sex offender who's pleaded guilty to King's murder and that of 14-year-old Amber DuBois of Escondido last year.

Gardner faces a plea-bargained, no-parole life prison term when he's formally sentenced May 14th.

But backers of "Chelsea's Law" aren't presuming it'll get the Legislature's stamp of approval and the governor's signature -- at least in its present form.

They're now taking their case to the court of public opinion, because "pushback" is materializing as the bill heads for an Assembly Appropriations Committee later this month.

Concerns about its potential costs, along with criticism that it emphasizes punishment over treatment and rehabilitation, have been raised by groups such as the California Coaltion Against Sexual Assault, American Civil Liberties Union and California Public Defenders Association.

Their lobbyists are looking to shape the measure in ways that better suit their objectives.

So the bill's author, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-75th District), has just launched a petition campaign seeking at least 20,000 signatures in support of Chelsea's Law.

"The petition drive has just been amazing," Fletcher marveled in an interview Friday.  "Our office has been overwhelmed with an outpouring of support.  I've talked to people that are going to their doughnut shops, the malls, to circulate petitions."

Fletcher said he's open to suggested improvements in the bill.

"If there are refinements that we can make that are better and are consistent with the intent, we'd certainly look to go in that direction," he said. "But we are not going to water down this bill just to get a bill passed.  It has to be real and it has to be substantive ...

"At the end of the day, if the Legislature is unresponsive, we'll do an initiative.  But legislation is a better way to go.  You get a better law that way."

Fletcher is teaming up with "Chelsea's Light" -- a nonprofit foundation created by King's parents, Brent and Kelly -- in sponsoring the petition drive.

The petition and its signatures will be submitted to upcoming Assembly and State Senate committee hearings as official testimony on behalf of AB 1844.
 
"This petition," the Kings said in a statement, "will enable Californians to gather our voices behind a singular initiative for children who don't have a voice of their own in our legislative process." 

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