GREAT FALLS – On Wednesday, Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter urged Gov. Steve Bullock to sign Senate Bill 155 into law; late that same day, Bullock made “Jessica’s Law” a reality.
A similar bill was passed in Florida in 2005 following the sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Senate Bill 155 is a version of such legislation that would change the minimum sentence — from the current 10 years — back to 25 years for those who commit certain sexual offenses to victims who are 12 years or younger.
A sentencing reform bill force had reduced the sentence to 10 years in 2017.
“Me writing that letter was to let my bosses, the public, know that I was actively involved in this. I have gone down to Helena, and I testified on this bill. I fought these crimes for years,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter said it is important to have the law in Montana because we need to make sure we have the appropriate punishment for the appropriate offense.
“When we talk about sex offenses involving children under 12 years old, one of the biggest deterrents to crime is punishment. If there is a progressive punishment to a heinous, horrific crime, then there is a deterrent to those crimes,” Slaughter said.
He added that the move was inspired by the original purpose of Jessica’s Law.
“Our children are our most precious resource, and as your sheriff, I wanted to be able to explain to the community the importance of this, and I wanted to encourage the governor with everything I could […] to sign this bill,” Slaughter said.
The new law will go into effect October 1, 2019.