Oregon parole board requests bill to eliminate sex offender reclassification deadline
A local mom and alleged sexual assault survivors blasted a bill Friday that would get rid of the state's deadline for reclassifying sex offenders.
"It's important to do it in a timely manner because it's in the interest of public safety and this is what people wanted," Christine VanOrder, a mother and activist, told KATU.
Oregon's Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision requested the bill, HB 2045, despite the fact that lawmakers pushed back two deadlines previously. The agency has repeatedly said it doesn't have the resources necessary to meet the deadlines.
The reclassification effort started more than five years ago.
Oregon has the most sex offenders per capita in the country according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But due to complex legal requirements, its public sex offender registry website only lists about 2.5 percent of them, an extremely low percentage compared to neighboring states.
The reclassification effort is meant in part to help put more offenders on the public website but it's nowhere near finished.
"I think you'll see more victims. I think this is dangerous," VanOrder told a KATU reporter regarding the bill to get rid of the deadline for reclassifying sex offenders.
She said it may create more victims of a broken system like Trisha, the woman who fell prey to VanOrder's ex-husband, Alberto Baez Jr.
"I think you'll see a lot more Trishas," VanOrder said. "I think you'll see a lot more people that go into a situation with a dangerous person that they should have been made aware."
Trisha, who asked KATU not to reveal her last name, said in November that she started dating Baez in February 2016 and soon after VanOrder, then a stranger, told her he's a sex offender.
Trisha, a mother of two girls, said she then checked Oregon's public sex offender registry website and Baez wasn't on it.
"I just thought people were trying to put a rift in our relationship," Trisha said.
What Trisha didn't know is Baez, who the state's parole board labeled a predator, was convicted of second-degree sex abuse in 1994 and third-degree rape in 2008.
Oregon State Police (OSP), which oversees the state's sex offender registry, told KATU Baez was put on the public sex offender registry website in 2010 but taken off the next year after a community corrections officer lowered his supervision.
In June 2016, as part of a state parole board re-classification effort, he was put back on the public website. But by then Trisha said it was too late.
"We had a very violent relationship. ... Horrible. I looked at it as probably torture," said Trisha. “My index finger was broken severely. ... They did a surgery there where they put in a plate. ... He used to burn me with meth pipes."
In April 2018, Baez, who's now serving a more than 40-year prison sentence, was convicted of three counts of second-degree assault as well as unlawful use of a weapon and witness tampering related to attacks on Trisha in 2016 and 2017.
Baez is also currently charged with kidnapping and menacing Trisha as well as raping her repeatedly and he faces counts of sex abuse and possessing child pornography.
Oregon's parole board is now reclassifying sex offenders into a three-level system that lawmakers ordered in 2013.
Since then, the Legislature has pushed back two deadlines for the project and the board's now supposed to have the offender reclassification ready by Dec. 1, 2022.
But now the parole board says it wants no deadline at all and it's filed a bill in Salem to get rid of it.
"With the deadline, it actually puts pressure on the board to do it. Otherwise, it could just sit in someone's office gathering dust," VanOrder said.
In testimony before Oregon's House Judiciary Committee, the parole board said so far its seven assessment specialists have only reclassified 4,585 of the state's nearly 31,000 registered sex offenders into a level.
"In order to meet the deadline, the board would need to hire additional 30 staff at a cost of approximately $11,081,466," the board said in a document shown to legislators. "This does not include office space and equipment. In addition, with a tight labor market, it would be difficult to fill 30 positions."
As part of the effort, many predators like Baez are already supposed to be re-classified as level three, the most likely to re-offend, and put on the public website.
According to OSP, 918 sex offenders designated as predatory have not been classified into a risk level yet and are not posted on the public website.
Deborah Hines, who now lives in Alaska, told a KATU reporter she was sexually abused repeatedly in Oregon several years ago. She testified to lawmakers in writing against HB 2045.
"It's a failed system and it's a disaster because they're not able to get it done," Hines said Friday. "They designed it and now they're wanting to back out of it. I would say fix it, get it done the way it's supposed to be done, but not to extend the time."
The bill would also impact OSP, saying it "removes deadline by which Department of State Police must enter results of classification into Law Enforcement Data System. Directs department to enter results within reasonable time after receipt."
Regarding the status of the bill, Aaron Fiedler, a spokesman for state Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, the House Judiciary Committee chair, said, "The legislation is still being worked and has an amendment coming. Either way, nothing has moved."
Oregon's public listing of around 2.5 percent of the state's sex offenders is extremely low compared to neighboring states. Idaho publicly lists 100 percent of its registered offenders, Nevada lists 90 percent, California lists 83 percent and Washington lists 33 percent.
When Oregon's reclassification project is eventually done, Dylan Arthur, the executive director of Oregon's Parole and Post-Prison Supervision Board, said in November it will likely only result in 5 to 10 percent of the state's offenders being listed publicly.
Arthur did not immediately respond to multiple emails and phone messages a KATU reporter left Friday.