AUGUSTA – Jessica’s Law, minus mandatory minimum sentences for child molesters, won overwhelming support Thursday in the House.
While the bill does not include the compulsory 25-year sentence for a person convicted of gross sexual assault against a minor under 12 as originally proposed, it does toughen prison terms for the crime.
It sets a base sentence of 20 years and requires judges to justify why they deviate from that.
It also allows for sentences in excess of 30 years and includes lifetime electronic monitoring of convicts.
The measure goes to the Senate today for consideration.
The bill is named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, assaulted and killed last year by a repeat sex offender.
The bill has received national attention from TV commentator Bill O’Reilly, who has advocated for mandatory minimums on his program.
In Maine, radio host Ray Richardson also has taken up the cause.
During House debate, Rep. Kim Davis, R-Augusta, savaged the version of Jessica’s Law that was being considered.
“The bill before you, in my opinion, is woefully inadequate to do what we need to do to protect our children. … This is not Jessica’s Law.”
She described the bill as a lot of “sound and fury signifying nothing” and said a vote for the bill was “conceding defeat with no hope of protecting the children of Maine.”
Proponents of the revised Jessica’s Law didn’t mince words either.
“We are faced with a choice,” said Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor. “One, be perceived – that’s perceived – as protecting children by supporting … the original Jessica’s Law …Or two, actually protecting children by taking the reasonable steps set forth” in this bill.
“The hard reality is that it would be bad for children,” to support the mandatory minimums, he continued.
Prosecutors and victims’ advocates lined up behind the amended Jessica’s Law, arguing that its provisions would result in more criminal convictions and longer prison terms than would mandatory minimums.
“It seems that this debate has become a litmus test about who wants to be tougher on pedophiles,” said Rep. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro. “The problem I have with the original (bill) is that it’s asking us to ignore the professionals who deal with this kind of case day after day. It asks us to ignore the victims’ advocates.”