California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law one of the nation’s toughest child predator legislation aptly named after teenager Chelsea King who captured the country’s attention when her life was cut short by a repeat child predator.
“My single greatest priority as governor is to protect the safety and well being of all Californians,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “When a terrible tragedy like what happened to Chelsea King and Amber Dubois occurs, we have to review the laws in place and see where improvements or changes can be made to make our state safer and make it tougher on the predators who want to create victims out of innocent Californians. I am proud to sign these bills today that will do just that.”
The ceremonial bill signing got off to a rainy start at San Diego’s Balboa Park; Gov. Schwarzenegger was joined by Chelsea’s parents, Brent and Kelly King, and the bill’s author, State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego), San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, Assembly Speaker John Perez, (D-Los Angeles), and Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, (R-Murrieta). Amber Dubois’ mother was also in attendance showing her support for the newly-minted sexual predator law.
Assembly Bill 1844, also known as Chelsea’s Law, requires a life sentence without the possibility of parole for forcible sex acts against children. It will also strengthen sex offense parole guidelines and entail lifelong GPS tracking for some sex offenders. The law will set tough parole guidelines for officers to follow in an effort to prevent another tragedy.
The Chelsea law legislation was approved unanimously by the state Senate and Assembly in record time. All the lawmakers in attendance spoke repeatedly about the bipartisanship of this bill and expressed hope they could work together on other issues because of Chelsea’s law.
King was murdered and raped near her home in Poway at Ranchero Bernardo Park, where she often went for an afternoon jog, on Feb. 25. Her killer was registered sex offender John Albert Gardner, who buried the 17-year-old in a shallow grave along the shore of Lake Hodges inside the park.
Two time murderer, Gardner brokered a plea deal and was sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole for killing and sexually assaulting King and also for abducting, raping and stabbing 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido the previous year.
“Because of Chelsea, everyone has joined together to solve this serious problem in our state,’’ Schwarzenegger somberly said. “Because of Chelsea, California’s children will be safer. Because of Chelsea, this never has to happen again.”
Fletcher, the author of the new law said Chelsea’s Law which became law immediately, puts the state of California at the forefront when dealing with violent sex offenders.
“We are about to see signed into law a sweeping piece of legislation that will better protect our children, who are the most vulnerable, the most innocent, the most precious,” Fletcher said. “Today is a very good day for them.”
Chelsea’s law creates a “true one-strike life without the possibility of parole charge” for violent child sex offenders who stalk helpless children, Fletcher said. “If you don’t believe you can rehabilitate someone that violently sex offends a child, you should not let them out, and today California will adopt this.”
Assemblyman Fletcher went on to say, “Governor Schwarzenegger was supportive of our efforts from the very beginning and we are grateful for his commitment to public safety. Today’s signing would not have been possible without the tremendous bi-partisan support of legislators, the amazing strength of Brent and Kelly King, and the inspiriting dedication of the entire San Diego community.”
Fletcher also commended the community and state for their diligent strides to make sure this day was possible. “An unspeakable tragedy, a powerful voice, a community demanding action, a Legislature that responded, a governor about to make history. This is due to Chelsea King. Today is her day,” he said.
Chelsea’s father Brent started out by saying; “This is a day that marks so much in our lives, and we are honored that Governor Schwarzenegger has chosen to sign Chelsea’s Law in San Diego.”
Brent King said Chelsea’s Law will fix California’s “broken system and make sure that the worst of the worst violent child predators are locked up for life.”
During the highly emotional bill signing Chelsea’s mom, Kelly was visibly struggling to hold it together. “Our children look to us for guidance and understanding of how our world should be,” Kelly King said. “In supporting and passing Chelsea’s Law, you have shown them what is good and right and sound decision-making in government.”
Standing alongside Kelly King was her daughter’s close friend, Jenna Belknap, president of peer counseling at Poway High School where Chelsea went to high school, who braved the cameras and spoke from the heart about her buddy.
“We had to find a new sense of normal without Chelsea physically in our lives,” she said. “Chelsea King is not a past-tense kind of girl.”
Recently, Governor Schwarzenegger directed the Sex Offender Management Board to determine where systemic changes or improvements can be made to better protect the public. Following their review, the Governor directed his Administration to take action on the recommendations provided by the board including the implementation of the containment model included in Chelsea’s Law, according to a statement from his office.
Moe Dubois, Amber’s father who was not in attendance, has worked on three bills that Schwarzenegger plans on signing before he leaves office at the end of the year. The new bills will establish guidelines for handling missing-persons investigations, require law enforcement to notify national databases two hours after a child abduction — instead of the current four — and create a missing-persons position within the California Department of Justice to help authorities find abducted children, according to the governor’s office.
By the end of the bill signing ceremony, the sun peaked from behind the clouds and Chelsea’s family and friends said she was happy now as the tears of rain stopped- Chelsea was now spreading sunshine and happiness for all of California’s children.