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State Bill Allowing Collection of Sex Offender Email Addresses Advances

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A screen shot of the California Attorney General's Office 'Megan's Law' website, which outlines federal court rulings that don't currently allow law enforcement to collect sex offender email addresses.

SACRAMENTO -- California lawmakers moved Tuesday to fix a flawed voter-approved initiative that required registered sex offenders to disclose their email addresses, screen names and other electronic information to authorities.

Proposition 35 was approved by an overwhelming 81 percent of the vote in 2012, making it the most popular initiative in California's history.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2014 that the measure violated the free speech rights of about 73,000 sex offenders who have served their prison terms.

The court gave lawmakers time to correct the constitutional problems, and the Assembly Public Safety Committee advanced SB 448 to the full Assembly on a 7-0 vote Tuesday.

In keeping with the court's ruling, the bill by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would limit the reporting requirements to sex offenders convicted of a felony after Jan. 1, 2017.


It would apply only if the offender used the internet to collect private information on the victim of the crime, to traffic the victim, or collect or distribute obscene material or child pornography.

Law enforcement could use the information only to investigate sex-related crimes, kidnappings or human trafficking. The identifying information would be kept private except under a court order.

The bill still violates free speech protections, including the right to anonymous speech, said Janice Bellucci, an attorney and president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws. She also objected that the bill includes juveniles, a provision she said may ensnare curious teenagers.

Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Sonia Satchell testified that the measure would help law enforcement officials track human trafficking, from the stalking of victims on social media to the marketing of prostitutes online.

"The entire industry is run digitally," she said. "We live in a world of emails, Snapchats, Facebooks, Twitters, Instagram and clouds."

Hueso said the bill finds a balance between protecting free speech and protecting public safety and voters' desires.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation sued to block the original measure but dropped their opposition after Hueso made violations of reporting requirements misdemeanors punishable by no more than six months in jail.

A previous version of the bill would have made violations felonies that had the potential to send third-strike sex offenders to prison for life, said Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy in Sacramento.

"Given that what we're talking about is failing to hand over an email address, a much more appropriate consequence," she said.

The reporting requirements have been on hold since the lawsuit was filed in 2013. But other provisions of Proposition 35 remain in effect, including increased prison sentences for human trafficking.

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