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A bill to bar child sex offenders from running for school boards inched closer to becoming law Thursday despite testimony, for the first time, from the man who generated the controversy in the first place.
Nearly two weeks after Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, first introduced HB64 in a hearing, Richard Wagner Jones added his voice to the debate Thursday. Jones, who spent five years in prison and 10 years on probation after a 1990 second-degree felony conviction of sexual abuse of a child, ran for a seat on the Granite School District board last fall.
He lost, but outrage over his candidacy inspired Moss to run HB64, she said.
Jones argued before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee that most truly rehabilitated sex offenders, such as himself, do not re-offend. He also said school board members do not necessarily have to have access to children.
"As a rehabilitated offender, my commitment to preventing more crimes is strong and more victims is strong," Jones told lawmakers. He said he waited more than 20 years after his conviction to run for school board so voters would know he wasn't a risk, and he said he chose to run for that office because there was a need "for a fiscally conservative opponent" to incumbent Dan Lofgren.
"As should be the case, voters had the choice," said Jones, who earned more than 20 percent of the vote in November.
Moss, however, held strong on her conviction that school boards are no place for those convicted of sexually abusing children.
"If you have children then you know how I feel and other people feel in my community," Moss said. "He can run for any other office he wants … but not the school board."
The committee just barely agreed with Moss, voting to advance the bill to the Senate floor by 3-2.
Sens. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, and Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, voted against the bill, with Thatcher calling the proposal well intentioned but ultimately not good.
"Obviously, protecting children is of tremendous weight," Thatcher said. "On the other hand, I do believe people can change. I think it's important for people to see they can get on with their lives after they've made a mistake."
He added it would be extremely unlikely such a candidate could win a school board seat anyway, and he wondered why it's appropriate to bar sex offenders from running for the office but not others such as those who kick puppies or get in violent bar fights.
An emotional Moss responded that kicking a puppy is "much different than sexual assault of a child."
Thatcher made a motion to move to the next bill on the agenda without voting on HB64, a move that would have stalled the bill in committee. But Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, argued that the bill was a simple one and asked that it be brought to a vote.
"Do we want child sex offenders to reform? We absolutely do," Urquhart said. "Do we want them to be better? Yeah, we absolutely do. Do we want them to serve on the school board? No."
The full Senate will now have to vote in favor of the bill twice before it may move onto the governor for his signature to become law. It already passed the House 47-27.