By Derrick DePledge
Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom on Wednesday failed in an attempt to significantly increase mandatory minimum prison sentences for people convicted of sexual assault against minors under 12 years old.
Bill O'Reilly, the conservative host of the O'Reilly Factor on Fox, made the issue a national crusade after the abduction, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida in 2005. Hawaii is among a handful of states that have not passed "Jessica's Law."
Slom offered a floor amendment to Senate Bill 880, which increases mandatory minimums for sexual assaults against minors under 12, to require mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years without the possibility of parole. The bill sets the mandatory minimum at six years, eight months for the most egregious sexual assaults on minors.
"If we don't protect the children, who does?" Slom asked.
But other senators said Slom's proposal would have interfered with judicial discretion. Some also warned that it would have applied to situations where such long prison terms could be overly harsh, such as assaults by developmentally disabled teenagers on minors or sexual acts between minors who are in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.
Sen. Rosalyn Baker said that while it may be tempting to yield to a "lock them up, throw away the key" impulse, longer sentences are not always appropriate.
The Senate voted 23 to 1 against Slom's floor amendment, then passed the bill unanimously.
The floor amendment provoked an interesting discussion about the Senate's procedures. Slom, the only Republican in the chamber, did not initially have a second for the motion on his floor amendment, which should have halted discussion. Sen. Les Ihara offered to second the motion, but noted that neither the Senate's rules, nor Mason's Manual -- the authority for legislative procedure -- require a second.
Such an interpretation would mean that individual senators would be free to routinely offer floor amendments on controversial issues and, as Slom did Wednesday, call for potentially uncomfortable roll call votes.
Senate staff explained afterward that Senate practice is to require a second on motions for floor amendments. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said she gave Slom some leeway because he is the only Republican, and noted that Ihara ultimately seconded Slom's motion.