Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Michael Cusenza
Two bills — both addressing the employment of sex offenders — are moving through the state Legislature this month as lawmakers ramp up protection efforts after recent borough cases revealed holes in the system.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) last week introduced legislation that will make it easier for organizations that work with children to do more complete background checks on employees and volunteers to eliminate potential sex offenders. Megan’s Law enables some background checks, but is limited to Level 2 and 3 sex offenses committed after Jan. 26, 1996.
“This bill is going to close a critical gap in state laws,” Hevesi told the Chronicle.
The law would allow youth service organizations to obtain sex offender background checks that include Level 1 offenses and convictions that occurred prior to 1996, free of charge from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Hevesi said the case of [name withheld], a Little League coach from Springfield Gardens who was charged in February with first- and second-degree criminal sexual acts, including the use of a child in a sexual performance, highlighted the gap. It was later learned that [name withheld] was charged in 1989 with promoting sexual performance by a child under the age of 16.
The laws on the books failed the state’s kids twice, Hevesi asserted, because not only were the prior crimes unknown to little league organizers, but [name withheld] was allowed to plead to a far lesser charge 20 years ago.
Hevesi said he hopes to have the bill passed in the next two months, and plans on “introducing legislation in the coming weeks to make certain child sex offenders cannot plea their way out of accountability.”
Additionally this month, state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) announced that the Senate passed the Sex Offender Registry Act, which would amend the Labor Law to prevent registered sex offenders from working with children ages 16 and under, directly and unsupervised. The bill is now in the Assembly, where Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) is a sponsor.
Earlier this year, a convicted sex offender was dismissed from volunteering at St. Mel’s School in Flushing after parents discovered he was a Level 1 offender who served six months in prison for sexually abusing a boy. [name withheld]’s past came to light after he allegedly tried to contact a student through Facebook.
By Don Davis
ST. PAUL -- An 8-year-old effort to keep sex offenders in jail longer began a new trek on Tuesday through the Minnesota Legislature.
The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee unanimously approved a proposal that would force many of the worst offenders to spend 60 years in prison, followed by a decade of supervised release. Those “worst of the worst” sex offenders would serve twice the current sentences under the bill by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.
“The public expects us to do something drastic with sex offenders,” Cornish said.
A key to Cornish’s bill is that after someone is found guilty of a serious sexual assault, he could be sent to a second trial to determine whether a jury determines that he is a “predatory sex offender.” If that finding is made, the higher penalties kick in.
Cornish’s measure is the latest attempt to get tough on sex offenders, which started shortly after the November 2003 kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin from a Grand Forks, N.D., mall.
Sjodin’s body was found the next April near Crookston, Minn. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was charged, and eventually convicted in federal court and sentenced to death. He had been released from a Minnesota prison in May 2003 after serving time on a sex charge.
Since then, lawmakers and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty lengthened sex offender sentences.
The bill by Cornish represents a change in tactics, with the second trial to impose higher penalties on those most likely to reoffend.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, authored a similar bill, but his measure has not received a committee hearing.
Under the Cornish bill, the state corrections commissioner could release a predatory sex offender early only if he can prove that he no longer poses a threat to public safety and can be reintegrated into society.
- This is basically a catch-22 situation. Could you prove, if accused, that you did not steal something? No! So how can he prove he is or isn't a threat? The state is suppose to PROVE you are a danger, not the other way around.
Cornish said that his bill would be less expensive than the current procedure, where many offenders are sent to state hospitals after completing their sentences, which costs three times as much as prison stays.
Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said he does not think any prisoner would get enough treatment to be released early.
Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said he is fine with putting more offenders in prison, but said he is concerned that the Corrections Department may not be able to find enough therapists willing to work with prisoners.
“We’re not getting enough treatment (for sex offenders) because we can’t get enough people,” said Gauthier, himself a therapist,
Bill would establish new registration requirements
PROVIDENCE (WPRI) - A new bill at the state house would make it easier for Rhode Islanders to be notified about registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
The new legislation is being sponsored by Cranston Representative Peter Palumbo.
The bill would establish new sex offender registration and notification requirements in Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Attorney General's office is in favor of the new sex offender legislation.
Politics remains the art of the possible. So sometimes, a small step forward beats standing in place, especially with an issue as onerous as the online Michigan Sex Offender Registry.
Bills sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would at least undo one of the most egregious elements of the registry: the so-called Romeo and Juliet cases involving consenting teens. Legislators should approve them.
The bills, approved by the state Senate last week, would enable teens convicted of having sexual contact with an underage partner to avoid the virtually lifelong housing and employment restrictions and public humiliation associated with being registered as a sex offender. Nothing in the legislation would make such liaisons legal; the age of consent would remain at 16.
The bills create a three-tiered list of offenses and would put state law in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act. Teenagers committing more serious sex crimes would remain on the registry, but those on the registry could also petition a judge to have their names removed.
"It's not perfect, but it's moving in a positive direction," said Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Legislature should not stop here. The debate on these bills is an opportunity to create a legislative committee that would examine the entire registry and its costs to law enforcement agencies, and then recommend further reforms. Such changes should include giving judges more discretion over who goes on the registry, classifying convicts by their risk of reoffending instead of simply by their offenses, and placing more offenders on a private law enforcement registry instead of the public one.
Maintaining the accuracy of the burgeoning list has been a problem for the Michigan State Police. In some cases, names have remained on the list long after their convictions for misdemeanor sexual offenses have been expunged by the courts. Offenders are typically required to register for 25 years or life under Michigan law.
Child predators, the registry's original target, account for only a small slice of registrants. Michigan's sweeping 15-year-old registry, containing roughly 40,000 names, is one of the nation's largest. It's far too broad and includes people who pose little risk of reoffending. Pennsylvania, with a population 25% larger than Michigan's, lists only 10,000 people on its Internet registry for sex offenders.
"We end up putting so many people on this registry who are not going to get jobs or find places to live," said Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU of Michigan. "It spirals them back into the criminal justice system."
Getting rid of Romeo and Juliet cases should jump-start a broader debate on how to refine and improve an overreaching requirement that no longer serves its intended purpose.
By Robert Napper
NEW PORT RICHEY — The City Council is seeking a legal review of its sex offender ordinance to give it more teeth.
New Port Richey's ordinance already bans registered sex offenders convicted in Florida of a sex crime on a child under 16 from living within 2,500 feet of a school, day care center, library, church, park or playground.
But after hearing from resident Tom Harris, the council decided on Tuesday to possibly follow the lead of the tiny East Pasco city of San Antonio, which in January beefed up its ordinance by increasing its required buffer by 500 feet, as well as adding bus stops to the mix.
"San Antonio did it,'' Harris told the council, "why can't we?"
- Hell, why not make it 100 miles?
Interim Deputy City Attorney Susan Churuti offered to review the city's ordinance and come back with any recommendations for possible changes.
"It never hurts to take another look," she said.
Harris decried state laws that mandate a 1,000-foot buffer for registered sex offenders who are no longer being supervised by the state on probation or parole, but were convicted under Florida law of a sex crime on a child under 16.
Harris said another loophole needs to be addressed as sex offenders who come to Florida from outside the state are required to register, but since their convictions occurred in another state, there are no restrictions on where they live.
New Port Richey's ordinance has similar language to the state law in outlining its 2,500-foot buffer requirement for sex offenders living in the city who have been convicted of sex crimes under Florida law, but the wording also allows for offenders convicted outside the state to live anywhere in the city.
For Harris, who has three daughters, 13, 10 and 8, it is a huge concern. Currently, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lists 167 sex offenders with New Port Richey addresses. FDLE officials confirmed that sex offenders who come to Florida with convictions from other states are not subject to state restrictions on where sex offenders can live.
Cities and counties can address the issue locally, said Mary Coffee, FDLE planning and policy administrator of Florida Offender Registry and Tracking Services.
"I can't believe more people aren't outraged by this," Harris said. "It's like New Port Richey has put out the welcome mat for sex offenders."
New Port Richey police Chief Jeffrey Harrington said he hasn't seen an increase in sex offenders living in the area, but he is in favor of the upcoming review by legal advisers of the ordinance.