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New laws help keep track of sex offenders

By Kevin McDermott, QCTimes, January 1, 2007 

[New laws] 
Too many laws? 

[New laws] 

As of today, the driver's licenses of registered sex offenders in Illinois will expire every 12 months instead of the usual four years in an effort to better keep track of them.

Another new law increases the information sex offenders must provide about themselves when they register and makes that information more readily available to the public. Yet another new law expands the use of electronic monitoring devices for paroled sex offenders.

All of those laws were passed by the Legislature in the past year with little or no opposition, joining a long list of sex offender-related issues added to the state statutes in the past few years.

"All of these (laws) are just tools to increase the awareness in the general public about sex offenders in our communities because those crimes have such a high rate of recidivism," said Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, co-sponsor of several sex offender measures this year.

"It coincides with technological advances" that allow police to track paroled sex offenders through global positioning systems and provide information to the public through the Internet, he said.

Some critics say Illinois and other states have gotten carried away with sex offender laws, leading to situations in which people who already have served their prison sentences are not allowed to live in certain areas and face other continued restrictions.

But there appears to be little sentiment in the Legislature for slowing the annual juggernaut of sex offender laws.

"I sometimes hear people say these (convicted offenders) never have a chance, and there's almost a sense of sympathy for them, and just then along comes another story that disgusts me so much that it renews my belief there's never too much we can do," said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville. "If we have a problem, it's not that there's too many laws (restricting) sex offenders."

Too many laws?

But Stephens is among those who believe there are too many new laws in general.

That prompted him, and a handful of others, to vote against what is likely to be one of the most popular new laws among people who deal with state government: a requirement that they be allowed to talk to an actual human being.

Anyone who has called a governmental office or major company knows the drill: You get a computerized voice that instructs you to press this number or say that word as it walks you through the system to figure out what your problem is without any involvement by a live

The new "Human Voice Contact Act" requires that, in the case of Illinois state agencies, callers be given the option, early on to circumvent that digitized obstacle course and speak directly to a person.

"We need the government to be serviceable to average citizens, and, oftentimes, you get the voice mail from hell. You're in voice-mail purgatory and you can't get out," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, a sponsor of the legislation. "Government has got to be reachable."

Countered Stephens, "If we passed a law for everything that frustrates us, we'd have 1,000 new laws (starting Jan. 1) instead of 100." 

Even the current list of new laws is "without question" too many, he said.

But some of the new statutes merely tweak or strengthen existing laws. Dogfighting, for example, has long been illegal in Illinois, but a new law that goes into effect Monday drives home that point by making it a felony for an adult to take a child to a dogfight. Another new measure strengthens existing protections against
identity theft by requiring that informational brochures be provided to senior citizens when they apply to renew a driver's license.

The current Legislature returns to Springfield on Jan. 8. The new Legislature, elected in November, will be sworn in Jan. 10.

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