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Issue Position: The Commonwealth Children's Compact

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The Commonwealth Children's Compact

Jody Richards knows that the best way to take care of Kentucky's future is to take care of Kentucky's children. That is why Jody Richards has worked for years to improve public education in Kentucky. And that is why he will be the strongest education governor in our state's history.

As Kentucky's next Governor, Jody Richards will also be committed to taking such complementary steps as strengthening the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program to guarantee quality health coverage for more uninsured children. At the same time, Jody Richards understands that education and health care commitments to children can be in vain if we do not secure our children's basic right to be free from the scourge of violence and predatory behavior in our society.

That is why Jody Richards is committed to a series of interrelated policies which will ensure that our children receive the protection and support of true Kentucky values.

Jody Richards will:

* Ensure the capture of more child predators who populate the internet;
* Punish sellers of violent video games who refuse to screen them from access by minors;
* Assist parents in exercising their responsibility to protect their own children from internet predators, violence, and pornography;
* Create the nation's strongest character education program in our public schools to reinforce the values that Kentuckians want to pass on to their children.

THE THREAT TO OUR CHILDREN

Over 400 million pornography sites now exist on the Internet. Nine out of ten children aged 8-16 come into contact with pornographic web sites, far too often by accident or when using innocuous search terms for homework. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of teenagers report that their parents know very little about the sites that they visit and what they do online.

Many sexual predators are clearly exploiting Internet sites for communicating with potential child victims. At least one in five children have received unwanted sexual solicitations online. Just recently a former Boone County school bus driver was charged with sexually exploiting two young girls. The 40-year-old man had apparently created a "MySpace" profile that allowed him to pose online as a 16-year-old boy and communicate with teenagers. It is an example that hits close to home, but one that cannot be dismissed as an isolated occurrence.

Law enforcement officers estimate that as many as 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment. Along with being directly threatened by predators, our children are increasingly at risk of being desensitized to violence and brutality. Over two-thirds of secondary school students have played video games featuring prostitution, cop-killing, and random brutal violence against innocent bystanders. It has even been discovered that certain versions of these games now have "hidden" content that amounts to sexual pornography and gratuitously violent content.

Jody Richards understands the educational and economic importance of "wiring" Kentucky. That is why as Kentucky's next Governor he will set a high priority on expanding broadband internet service to every corner of our state. Yet Jody Richards recognizes that such a great opportunity as easy internet access must generate a great sense of responsibility - from government, businesses, parents, and children.

As Governor, Jody Richards therefore will not sit idly by and take a laissez-faire attitude to the future of our children. But he will also not grandstand or pontificate as so many other candidates for public office these days. He knows that no single silver bullet exists. So Governor Richards will meet the challenge of protecting our children with a solid, comprehensive, and multi-front strategy.

It will take action on four major fronts:

* 1) capturing child predators;
* 2) punishing unscrupulous business practices;
* 3) assisting the exercise of parental responsibility; and
* 4) instilling responsibility in our children through character education.

THE ACTION PLAN

1. Capturing Child Predators

The rise of such online networking sites as "MySpace" and "Facebook" has changed the way that teenagers communicate and connect with each other. However, with over 100 million registered users, these sites also serve as fertile ground for predators who want to harm children.

Jody Richards was a strong supporter and cosponsor of Kentucky's House Bill 3 which passed in 2006. The new law requires sex offenders to stay at least 1000 feet from schools, public pools and daycares, changes possession of child pornography from a misdemeanor to a felony, and gives juries the opportunity to sentence a repeat sex offender to a lifetime in prison without the possibility of parole for a minimum of 25 years.

Yet as Kentucky's next Governor, Jody Richards will take major new steps to prevent predators from electronically stalking our children. As Governor, Jody Richards will take the following further steps:

* Sex offenders who commit crimes against minors will be required to go on the state's public sex offender registry for the rest of their lives. Kentucky currently has a limited "twenty-year registrant" classification for some felony sex offenders. Thus someone who committed a serious offense against a child at age 25 can be removed from the sex offender registry by age 45.
* Tighten the process and close any loopholes that may result in sex offenders not immediately being entered into the sex offender registry as they leave prison or the judicial system.
Sex offenders who solicit sexual contact with minors over the internet will be automatically guilty of a separate "virtual" solicitation offense even if no actual meeting takes place.
New legislation that unanimously passed the House this year under Speaker Richards' leadership requires all sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, chat user names or other online identities with law enforcement officials just as they must report their physical addresses. Governor Richards will go farther and require the managers of such online teen networking sites as "MySpace" and "Facebook" to remove and block all sex offender e-mail addresses. Moreover, convicted sex offenders who attempt to register for designated children or teen networking sites will be found in automatic violation of any parole or probation status and be guilty of a separate felony offense under Kentucky law.
* Require explicit parental permission before allowing minors to create profiles on "MySpace" and similar networking sites.
* Provide grants to local law enforcement officials in support of innovative local initiatives they develop for catching sexual predators - including criminal "sting" operations such as those featured in NBC's Dateline: To Catch a Predator series.

2. Punishing Unscrupulous Business Practices

"Mature" and "Adults Only" ratings now strive to identify extreme sexual content and murderous brutality in video games. Yet unscrupulous business practices often thwart the goal of keeping such inappropriate materials away from minors. Thus Governor Richards will take action to do the following:

* It will be a criminal offense for retailers to sell "Mature" or "Adults Only" video games to minors. Adults who re-sell any such prohibited video to a minor will be guilty of the same criminal offense.
* Any company game-maker or distributor which tries to circumvent review and ratings processes by selling games with "hidden" violence and sexual content will be guilty of deceptive marketing practices under Kentucky law.

3. Assisting the Exercise of Parental Responsibility

By invalidating many legislative efforts to prevent minors from accessing age-inappropriate material, recent court decisions have put a big burden on parents to exercise responsibility. Jody Richards knows that government cannot force "bad egg" parents without a sense of responsibility to exercise it. But as Kentucky's next Governor he will take significant steps to encourage and assist the great majority of parents who want to be responsible. These actions will include:

* Tax credits and rebates as incentives for parents to purchase software and subscriptions to comprehensive software which blocks inappropriate materials from minors.
* Development of a free online internet safety "toolkit" that parents can download on how to use parental controls, software to block inappropriate web sites, links to content rating systems, and ideas for teaching their children about web safety.
* Requiring online networking sites to provide access and instructions so that parents can view the material that their teenagers are writing on the web.
* Requiring video game retailers to post the ratings system in plain view near cash register areas so that parents will be able to review them before making any purchase for their children.
* Requiring stores that rent or sell violent or highly sexual video games to display them in separate areas with clearly-designated rating labels.

4. Instilling Responsibility In Our Children Through Character Education

From violent schoolyard bullying and virtual harassment on the web to deadly school shootings, our children are clearly in danger of becoming desensitized to violence. One of the best antidotes to counteract this threat is quality character education. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently declared: "Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." In order to promote the "true education" of intelligence plus character, respected national figures from across the political spectrum have joined together to develop and endorse solid quality school curricula for character education. These programs teach the importance of such universal values as responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Jody Richards understands that these character education initiatives are formally recognizing and supporting what good teachers have always tried to instill in students. Rather than the latest quick fix, character education in his view is our schools' oldest mission. From Virginia to California, schools have been introducing character education programs with positive results in student conduct. As Dr. Charles Haynes of Vanderbilt University has confirmed, effective character education programs result in increased parental involvement, decreased discipline problems, and improved academic performance.

A number of valuable character education initiative and programs at the local and regional level exist in Kentucky. Yet the National Association of State Boards of Education characterizes Kentucky as currently having "no state policy" on character education.

Thus as Kentucky's next Governor, Jody Richards is determined to develop the strongest state policy in the nation for character education in our schools. His first step will be to establish an annual $15 million competitive grant initiative that will fund proposals for top quality character education programs at the local level throughout Kentucky. These programs must be designed to promote the 10 character traits identified in the Kentucky Department of Education's Character Education: Teaching Strategies document which include caring, civic virtue and citizenship, justice and fairness, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, courtesy, human worth, knowledge, and self-discipline.


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