JEFFERSON CITY — Nearly 5,000 sex offenders would be added to the sex-offender registry under a constitutional amendment approved by the Missouri Senate on Thursday.
Under the resolution, 4,800 Missouri sex offenders who committed crimes before 1995 would be added to the registry. Current state law, including that which keeps sex offenders away from schools and day care centers, is dictated by Megan's Law, which was passed by the U.S. legislature in 1995.
Currently, sex offenders who committed crimes before Jan. 1, 1995, are not required to register their address with state authorities and do not have stipulations placed on where they can live.
The resolution received wide support in the Senate with a vote of 32-1, but it did spark an intense debate, not just over the type of sex offenders included in the registry, but also regarding Senate Republican leadership.
Some senators said they were concerned about what they called a "Romeo and Juliet situation," in which a teenager could be convicted of statutory rape even if engaging in consensual sex with someone close in age.
Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, spoke of a 17-year-old boy convicted of statutory rape after having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend. One parent of the 14-year-old girl turned the boy in as leverage against the other parent, the senator said.
People like this, Shields said, are not a threat to other residents and should not be on the list now or added to the list should the resolution pass.
"It's watered down," Shields said. "When people look at this list, it is so meaningless because it has so many names on it. And there are so many circumstances, as I described, where folks have committed a statutory crime. They don't know who to be scared of and who not to be scared of."
Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, wanted to define ages that would be excluded from the registry. "So you really want, you're trying to capture that 17-and-under-year-old-male, right? And you are also trying to capture post-pubescent females, and that's very important," Bartle said.
Bartle suggested the age for post-pubescent females start at age 14.
Debate became especially tense when Shields hinted at filibustering. The resolution's sponsor — Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau — then went into a long speech criticizing Shields, who is the Senate's president pro tem, for wielding what he said was too much power.
"What has driven me to be upset is your audacity to take the floor and in a sanctimonious tone say, 'I never delay a bill.' You kill bills all the time around here. Let's be real," Crowell said.
"I just have to work harder than you," Crowell continued. "There's no difference between us other than I'm a manual laborer, you're an executive."
At the close of debate, Shields voted for the resolution, which now goes to the House. If approved by the legislature, it would take statewide voter approval to become part of Missouri's constitution.