Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Chelsea’s Law


MAYOR SANDERS:
 
Good morning and thank you all for being here this morning. Joining me today are Governor Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker John Pérez, State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, Brent and Kelly King, the parents of Chelsea King and Jenna Belknap, Chelsea's friend. And I'll introduce some other folks in just a few seconds.
 
Nothing on earth is more heartbreaking than the death of a child. By now, unfortunately, we're all too familiar with the tragic stories of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. We know all about the inspiring lives of these two San Diego County teenagers and we know all about their senseless deaths at the hands of a violent sex offender.
 
Chelsea's Law, which the Governor will sign into law today, will impose tough new sentences for child molesters, including mandatory life sentences for those convicted of the most violent sexual offenses against children. With laws such as this we'll now have another powerful tool to protect our children.
 
Before I introduce Governor Schwarzenegger I'd like to also introduce, as I already did, Assemblymember Marty Block; Assemblymember Mary Salas; Assemblymember Anna Marie Caballero; Scott Fisher, the principal from Poway High School; former Assemblymember Todd Spitzer; Carrie McGonigle, Ann Dubois mother; San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis; Sheriff William Gore in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. We also have members of Nathan Fletcher's staff who've done an incredible job of shepherding this. We have several members of the law enforcement community -- we have Officer Brian Marvel, president, San Diego Police Officers Association; Chief William Lansdowne, San Diego Police Department; and finally, Ron Roberts, San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
 
I'd also like to give my personal thanks to Assemblymember Fletcher for taking this and turning it into reality and working so closely with both sides of the aisle to make this something that happened so quickly. (Applause)
 
And with that, I'll turn it over to Governor Schwarzenegger. And Governor, thank you very much for your support for this.
 
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER:
 
Thank you very much, Mayor Sanders, for your nice introduction. I know you have mentioned already everyone here today but I just want to point out again also Speaker Pérez -- thank you for being here today. And Senator Hollingsworth and Assemblyman Fletcher, of course, the man that did a lot of the work here; and then Brent and Kelly King and Carrie McGonigle, the mother, Amber's mother; and then Jenna Belknap, Chelsea's friend.
 
It's an honor to join you here today in San Diego to sign the landmark law named in honor of Chelsea. Chelsea was a wonderful girl. She was very talented. As a matter of fact, she was so talented she was a member of the San Diego Youth Symphony.
 
A tree is planted right here at the Pavilion in her name and today at the Pavilion here, in Chelsea's name, we are changing state law. Because of Chelsea everyone has joined together to solve a serious problem in our state. Because of Chelsea California's children will be safer. Because of Chelsea this never has to happen again. And I hope that that offers some comfort to all of you here today. My heart goes out to each of you. (Applause) I know you're grieving for Chelsea and for Amber Dubois, who will be also honored with new laws. I know that you have worked very hard to see some good come from these tragedies.
 
I want you to know that when I sign Chelsea's Law today it will go into effect immediately because of an urgency clause that is in the bill. So there will be no delays whatsoever; California's children will be better protected from this moment on. As Governor of the great state of California, public safety is my number one priority and as a parent of four children, of course, there is nothing that is more critical than protecting the innocent and the vulnerable.
 
To Chelsea and Amber's parents: I know that words can in no way lessen your deep, deep pain and heartache but I want you to know how much Maria and I admire your strength and your courage and your vision for creating change and for creating Chelsea's Law. Very few things bring Republicans and Democrats together these days but your daughters have. (Applause)
 
Now, I did not have the honor of meeting Chelsea or Amber but over the last few months, through the tireless work of their parents and through Assemblyman Fletcher's work to change state law and his great leadership and through their supportive communities and through the volunteers who carry forward their name, I have come to know their spirit. They were destined to change the world and today they did. Thank you very much. (Applause)
 
I would like to introduce another great leader here and this is Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, to say a few words. Please. (Applause)
 
SENATOR HOLLINGSWORTH:
 
Good morning. This is an occasion I know many of who have very mixed feelings about. But to focus on the positive is to talk about this measure and the thanks and the congratulations that go to so many people who worked so hard for it.
 
So first, thank you to all of those who worked very hard to make sure that this measure and this issue was brought to the forefront through the Chelsea's Life Foundation and all those throughout San Diego and California and across the country who saw something that needed to be done and took action. Thank you to and congratulations to Assemblymember Fletcher for his excellent work on this. Thank you to the Governor for signing this, for the Speaker and Senator Steinberg for helping to shepherd it through the legislative process.
 
And most of all, thank you to Brent and Kelly and Carrie. Your strength has been admired and, quite frankly, marveled at by so many people who have watched you. And now your strength is paying off with this milestone. This milestone means that there will be dozens, perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of families into the future that won't have to go through what you're going through. And you will never know and they will never know, because they will never be victims but they and all of us thank you for your hard work to make this happen today. (Applause)
 
Next I'd like to introduce the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Assemblyman John Pérez. (Applause)
 
SPEAKER PÉREZ:
 
Thank you, Senator. Good morning. I'm honored to be here as the Governor adds his signature to Chelsea's Law, making it official today.
 
I want to thank Assemblymembers Fletcher and Block for the leadership that they've shown in fighting for this law and for bringing members of both parties together to fix a broken system that resulted in the terrible tragedy of Chelsea's death.
 
I also want to express my condolences and the condolences of all of the legislature to the King family for their terrible loss. They've suffered a horrific loss but their determination to prevent other families from suffering that same loss is heroic. I want to thank them so much for their hard work and for all they've done to make today possible. We know the terrible circumstances that led up to Chelsea's death. We know of the systematic failures that allowed a monster back on the streets and we know the terrible result.
 
This law corrects those failures and will help prevent future tragedies:
 
First, Chelsea's Law strengthens penalties against predators.
 
Second, Chelsea's Law gives law enforcement vital tools in assessing future risk potential for offenders. Now we'll never put ourselves in the position of releasing criminals who will strike again at the first chance they get. Protecting our public safety is the most basic obligation of government at every level, federal, state and local.
 
There are no words to console Mr. and Mrs. King for their loss. Chelsea King was by all accounts a talented and bright young woman who was loved by her family and friends. I had the privilege of meeting with Mr. and Mrs. King shortly after they lost their daughter and I was awed by their strength and their passion and their compassion for others. That they were standing there and standing here this morning so many months later, is really a testament to their love and their commitment to their daughter and I'm so proud to join with my colleagues here to be part of this moment in making sure that no other family will have to suffer through the tragedy that the King family has had to suffer through.
 
But one legislator really started this process rolling for us, helped bring us together -- you have colleagues from both sides of the aisle -- but the person who spearheaded this effort early on was Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, so let's please welcome him. (Applause)
 
ASSEMBLYMEMBER FLETCHER:
 
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Today is quite a day and there are so many people that helped get us here today. My friend, the Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez, his help and support was crucial. As John mentioned, he met with the family, he endorsed our bill early on and he provided crucial insight, guidance and assistance throughout the process. And Mr. Speaker, we appreciate your support and we appreciate you being here today.
 
To the Governor, who was someone else who weighed in early -- you know, Governors rarely discuss the merits of legislation right out of the gate but the Governor said right when we introduced it, "This is important, I support it, we're going to get this done." And Governor, your support and being here today means a tremendous amount to the community and we're eternally grateful. (Applause)
 
There's a bipartisan group of legislators, some of whom are here today, who refused to allow better protection of our children to become a partisan issue. They insisted that it become a unifying thing.
 
So many in law enforcement -- our Sheriff Bill Gore, our District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, our police chief, so many of the organizations, crime victims groups -- these are people who protect us every single day, day in and day out and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for what they did for the law but also for what they do every single day and we greatly appreciate everything. Thank you. (Applause)
 
And then to the community of San Diego, to our change makers, the people who turned out in the thousands, the tens of thousands, to remember Chelsea, to write letters, to make phone calls, to come to the Capitol to collect petitions. I've been a part of a lot of teams in my life and there is no team I've ever been prouder of than each and every one of you who got this done. Thank you so much. (Applause)
 
Because of all of you we stand on the cusp of taking California to the forefront of dealing with violent sexual predators. We're 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 and today is a very good day for all of them.
 
When we started this process of developing Chelsea's Law there were a couple guiding principles but one of the most important, led by Brent and Kelly, was that we wouldn't dabble, we wouldn't nibble around the edges, we wouldn't go for an easy fix. In meeting after meeting, usually around their kitchen table at their house, we had a simple guiding principle; we said, "We'll go big or we'll go home." We wouldn’t accept a bill without the cornerstone piece of this legislation, a true one-strike, life without the possibility of parole charge, because if you don't believe you can rehabilitate someone that violently sexually offends a child you should not let them out. And today California will adopt this. (Applause)
 
We knew we needed additional penalties for increases in sex crimes against children but we also sought to fundamentally change a broken system, the parole system. We wanted to reform it with a new, dynamic risk assessment, with funding for law enforcement and victims groups, with polygraphing of sex offenders and we would do all of this and more in a way that added no cost to the state budget by finding reforms within the correction system.
 
When we started I told Brent and Kelly, I said, "I’m on board with your approach. Let's be bold, let's go big, let's seek major reforms." But I warned them we had little chance of being successful. Legislation this complex is almost never passed in the first attempt and certainly not in as short a timeframe as we had, just a few months. I told them I was on board for a long-term commitment and we would work until it got done, however long it took but I cautioned them. I was being realistic.
 
Brent and Kelly both said, "Nathan, we'll get this done." And they were being realistic because they know Chelsea.
 
I'll never forget at their house Brent looking at me and saying, "Nathan, you have no idea the power of my daughter. She is absolutely capable of anything." And today we know you were right. (Applause)
 
They shared a glimpse into Chelsea by making a few cards with a short essay Chelsea had written. It was an essay for a college admission. It was written in Dr. Seuss style. They gave them out to legislators in meetings to remind us of the importance of what we were doing, to remind us of the real connection, to make sure that we never forgot. I carried one of these cards with me every day we worked on Chelsea's Law and, when I wasn't sure we would make it through the next step, when I wasn’t sure the coalition would hold together, when I thought maybe we were going for too much, being too bold, I would read those words and find tremendous strength in Chelsea's words.
 
So today I want to read you this short essay in closing, written by Chelsea King, entitled "My Great Balancing Act."
 
Oh, the places I’ll go, I know certainly not. I know though, I know, that where ever I go I’ll learn a great many things not just about history or math but in fact, about the Great Balancing Act. I’ll travel great distance. I’ll live far from home. I might just find myself all alone. But, nevertheless find myself I will and thus, I will go and continue to grow. Yet, I have little direction, it’s frightfully clear. Thus, I go in undeclared, a clean naïve slate, not to wait but to actively discover my place. I will test all the paths between here and there, with the faith in my heart that I’ll find myself somewhere. To study abroad, to
dig up lost cultures, to write about life, or perhaps litigation, the places I could go, will become the places I go. I know I can be anything I dream in this wide-open space.
 
I’ll say good-bye to my friends, my family and teachers yet, always remember the things that they have taught. And it’s guaranteed I’ll learn new things from the new people I meet—be them good things or bad things remains up to me. But before I embark on my journey away, I must strengthen my wings and I know it’s not easy. I’ll stutter and stumble. I’ll fight against the breeze. I wonder if I’m ready. Will I too not fall into that ghastly waiting place? Will I find myself complacent? Will my lofty dreams turn into simply that—a transitory, intangible dream?
 
No, not at all, if I steer myself in the direction I choose. I will learn to navigate the breeze with ease. I might change my major; I might run out of funds, I might even find myself downtrodden and glum. But I have in my heart a compass that’s true— and to learn how
to use it is the most valuable clue my education can bestow. And with that I take charge of this Great Balancing Act as I take change in stride and refuse to hide. For I am myself and this will not change.
 
Today is my day! My mountain is waiting and I’m on my way.
 
Those are the words and that is the spirit of Chelsea King. (Applause) 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. (Applause)
 
To Brent and Kelly, your strength carried us through. As a father, from the bottom of my heart, we can't thank you enough because you've made real change, not for your family but for all of ours. The bravery, the graciousness, the strength you've shown, has made this possible. You've certainly touched my life and I think you've touched all of ours. Thank you so much. Please welcome to the stage Brent and Kelly King. (Applause)
 
MR. KING:
 
Thank you, California. From the moment our daughter went missing you have shown your true spirit and you haven't stopped since. When Kelly and I first sat around our kitchen table with a few close friends and family and had a discussion asking the tough questions of how preventable everything was that we had just gone through and how broken the system was in our state, the state we were born in, the state we had our kids in, we decided the right thing to do for our community and for our own healing was to proactively change the laws and to lock up the worst-of-the-worst violent child predators for life.
 
We were introduced to our local assemblyman, Nathan Fletcher and instantly knew that Chelsea was gathering a very powerful team. Nathan brought passion, energy and honesty to a process that I personally was very skeptical off. I had mentally prepared myself to go through an initiative process if that's what it took. No offense, guys. (Laughter)
 
Nathan worked tirelessly with all vested groups, Democrats, Republicans, the Sex Offender Management Board and he forged, with our guidance, a piece of legislation that is groundbreaking in its approach. I cannot thank him enough for his effort. (Applause)
 
We as a community have all learned the value of involvement. A terrible act of evil brought upon us has also brought me a new appreciation for my daughter's words, especially joie de vivre, the joy of life. To me this is embodied in the power of watching a community become engaged and support Chelsea's light, not only in trying to pass this law but in helping us heal, not only in joining our Facebook site but in sending blue ribbons to legislators, not only in attending rallies and gathering petition signatures but in becoming involved in what we all care about most -- our kids. Thank you, California, for your boldness. Thank you, California, for your energy. Thank you, California for your heart. Thank you, Chelsea. (Applause)
 
MRS. KING:
 
I spoke with some of Chelsea's friends last night who are now away at college, embarking on the next new and exciting phase of their young lives. I would like the California state legislators to know that you have inspired and encouraged our next generation of voters by your actions. As a parent I thank you. As a citizen, I encourage you to seize this moment. Our children look to us for guidance and understanding of how our world should be. In supporting and passing Chelsea's Law you've shown them what it is. You've shown them what is good and right and sound decision making in government.
 
Governor Schwarzenegger, I thank you for your support and commitment not only to this bill but to the children of California. You've helped us fulfill our dream of doing everything in our power to prevent this tragedy from ever happening to another family again.
 
Nathan, quite simply, you're my hero. You're actually my superhero.
 
Brent has spoken many times of our decision to choose hope over anger and despair in the wake of our unbearable loss and pain. Because of our family, our friends, the amazing people of California and across this country, we've been able to do just that. I offer my most heartfelt love and gratitude for your strength and support. Today is a day to celebrate your voice and your passion and to know that you've helped Chelsea fulfill her dreams of changing this world. Thank you. (Applause)
 
I would now like to introduce you to an amazing young woman, Jenna Belknap. She's a very dear friend of Chelsea's. They shared and share a lot of the same passion and energy and vibrancy that will take our generation and the generations in the future to the next level. I couldn't be more proud of the friends that Chelsea has chosen and has had in her lifetime and I am so very proud to introduce you to one of them and I ask you to welcome her with open arms. Thank you. This is Jenna. (Applause)
 
MS. BELKNAP:
 
Good morning. My name is Jenna Belknap and I'm the president of peer counseling, a group dedicated to promoting peace on campus at Poway High School. Chelsea King is and will forever be, my friend. She's the kind of friend where one moment we will be having a serious conversation about life and the troubles we encountered and the very next moment we will be rolling on the ground laughing so hard that our stomachs would hurt. For people who did not know her, she was optimistic, adventuresome and thrived off living her life to its utmost potential.
 
When she disappeared on February 25th our community of Poway came together in an unprecedented way. That first night students from all cliques came willing to help and do whatever they could to help find Chelsea. Many of us stayed the night at the Rancho Bernardo Community Center, wishing, waiting and hoping that with every opening of the door good news would follow.
 
The next day Poway High School came together in a way none had ever experienced before. Peer counselors printed off thousands of flyers to be posted around the community, stayed strong and hopeful for not only ourselves but the community as well and provided a safe haven for students to come and be with people who were experiencing similar emotions.
 
Throughout the next few days members of local businesses and members of not just Poway but neighboring communities of Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Peñasquitos and many other areas of San Diego came to do whatever they could to help find Chelsea. From 17-year olds passing out flyers as far as Tijuana and Nevada to adults signing up to participate in the search parties surrounding the areas of Lake Hodges, there was not a heart left untouched or an eye left dry because of Chelsea.
 
As the news of Chelsea's disappearance spread from Poway to San Diego, beyond San Diego to other states in America and finally beyond America to other countries around the globe, it quickly became clear that Chelsea had galvanized an entire community in a way no one could every have anticipated.
 
At Poway High School alone, students from all groups reached out to help, not just peer counselors. Athletes, band members, photography students, runners -- I mean, come on, this is high school. This type of community does not happen on an everyday basis. And since Chelsea was the type of person who, on principle, saw no boundaries among people, I know she would be so proud of everything we had done.
 
When we heard the devastating news of Chelsea's tragic fate our hearts broke. How could this happen to one of us? How could this happen to someone who had done nothing wrong? How could this happen to someone who had as much potential as Chelsea?
 
After months of reflection and following the hard work of the Kings and the lawmakers, I now know that everything happens for a reason and that this passing of Chelsea's Law will bring a safer community and a safer future for all children and members of society. As a school and community we remain bonded together. Chelsea's unconditional love and positive regard for all compelled us to.
 
We had to find a new sense of normal without Chelsea physically in our lives. In the past six months my world, like many others, has changed completely. I have hit rock bottom, sinking to a place I never thought possible before. I lost a friend, a teammate, a fellow peer counselor, a Lady Gaga enthusiast, a mentor and my snow-leopard-spandex sister.
 
As Chelsea's cousin Stephanie and Mrs. King have said many times, Chelsea King is not a past-tense kind of girl. Chelsea is still the type of girl who thrives off of awkward situations and is still striving, through others, to make everyone feel accepted by loving and appreciating their every awkward quirk and characteristic. Whenever I was with Chelsea I felt as though I should value every moment and learn to appreciate people for who they are.
 
Governor Schwarzenegger, thank you so much on behalf of Chelsea, her wonderful parents, Tyler, Poway High School, Poway, San Diego and the state of California for proving to us that Chelsea's infinite words of wisdom are true; "They can because they think they can."
 
Chels, my cross-country-running, snow-leopard-spandex sister, your motto in life has always been, "Go big or go home." We went big and refused to go home until we knew you were home.
 
Governor, will you please sign this piece of legislation for Chelsea? (Applause)
 
(Bill signed, applause)
 
MS. BELKNAP:
 

In closing, we would like for you to raise the sunflower each of you is holding as a representation for Chelsea and everything that we have done for her. (Applause)