Fla. Congressman Pushes Sex-Offender Database

Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) joins Farai Chideya to discuss his efforts to create an effective national sex-offender registry.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Georgia isn't the only state considering strict new sex-offender laws. U.S. Congressman Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, is championing a new nationwide bill. Soon it could change the way we track convicted sex offenders. He joins me now. Welcome, Congressman.

Representative MARK FOLEY (Republican, Florida): Thank you. Good to be with you.

CHIDEYA: So your sex-offender registration and notification act has passed both the House and Senate. What exactly will it mean for America's neighborhoods?

Rep. FOLEY: Well, we hope it provides a level of protection for children. I've been enjoying the conversation, listening to people defend, obviously, the rights of their clients, the perpetrators. One of the things we want to ensure is that finally we stand up for our kids, the kids who are being violated. There's a 90 percent recidivism rate among sexual predators, which means once they've committed the crime, they've been sentenced, they're released, 90 percent likelihood that they'll re-offend.

We want to toughen the law. We want to create a national database, all 50 states participating in the same database, so we can determine where people are. That they have to report - not a voluntary system any longer - that they have to report when they move to a community, so we can properly monitor their activities.

CHIDEYA: Well, our first guest, Dr. Fred Berlin, of Johns Hopkins, argued that perhaps it's the normalcy of the return to life that keeps some people from committing crimes again and that you could have people go underground and just flee the law enforcement system, try to change their names. Are you afraid that there will be some kind of an equal but opposite reaction to what you're trying to do?

Rep. FOLEY: We're always concerned that there may be a push underground of people that are so predisposed. But our first priority has to be about worrying about these children whose lives have been violated. Carlie Brucia is no longer alive today because of a sexual deviant, a predator. He asked and begged mercy and asked the courts to spare his life. It was a little too late for Carlie, to be able to say I deserve my life too. We do worry about the cause and effect of some legislation.

Our biggest hope is that people understand that they need to seek treatment, seek treatment beforehand, before they commit the crime. And that's one reason when we toughen laws, it's almost a signal to others that - do not do this because you will make your life a very, very difficult life from here on forward.

So part of legislating is not necessarily just trying to brand people or create a scarlet letter or subject them to unnecessary ridicule, but it's really to set a bar and a standard by which they then decide, I better get help professionally, I better go and see how I can deal with this problem or I should absolutely avoid contact with young people in order to ensure I don't fall into this very serious problem.

CHIDEYA: Congressman, you spoke of bars and standards and we here at NEWS AND NOTES have checked out some of the sex offender registries in neighborhoods around us. You have people who have been convicted of adult rape, of child rape, of lewd and lascivious behavior like flashing. Would you make distinctions between different categories of offenses in your legislation, also considering that even murderers who are released don't have to be tracked?

Rep. FOLEY: You really do have to, and that's why we wanted to give some flexibility to individual states. But I would like to see a uniform standard, because there is a difference between a flasher, let's say, and somebody who is a pedophile. There is a difference in crimes committed and I think that severity in the type of crime needs to be dealt with. If a person's no threat to a child, or at least hasn't been to this point, you have to treat that somewhat separately.

We've had cases where, let's say, a 19-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl consensually are involved in a relationship. The father becomes upset. The mother becomes upset, reports the child to the authorities, the 19-year-old. Now this is a consensual relationship, but based on the fact the mother's made a report, that young man now is brought before court and could possibly be adjudicated as a guilty sex offender.

CHIDEYA: I'm going to have to leave it there, Congressman, I'm sorry. We're out of time, but thank you so much for bringing your legislation to light to our listeners.

Rep. FOLEY: It was my pleasure.

CHIDEYA: U.S. Congressman Mark Foley represents Florida's 16th District. Thank you.

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