Safeguarding Our Child: The Evolution of Megan's Law

Itt45.jpgn New Jersey, we adhere to Megan’s Law. It is named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who, in 1996, was raped and murdered by a neighbor, a convicted sex offender. Megan’s law is the informal name that some states use for laws requiring sex offenders to register with authorities. It is a good law, one that I support and that I believe may have deterred possible attacks by repeat sexual predators. However, I believe we can strengthen its provisions.

That is why I have sponsored a proposal (A-3832) that would bring New Jersey’s Megan’s Law into compliance with The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).

State legislatures have passed various proposals that would protect children and communities from sexual predators, but many have had different approaches to Megan’s Law (or a version of it). In short, these laws are not uniform and a hodgepodge answer to a very serious issue.

In 2006, Congress passed The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA), and Title 1 of the act, SORNA, called for the first comprehensive national standard for sex offenders. Rather than a patchwork of state-by-state interpretations regarding the information a state should maintain about sexual offenders, SORNA creates a baseline of information and standards that apply regardless of the state.

It would require, for example the name, address, date of birth, place of employment license plate numbers, ZIP code, andadditional information based on a jurisdictions needs. The existing penalties for any abuse of this information would remain intact.

All of this information would be available online and it would be searchable by ZIP code or geographic region for the entire time an offender must registered. Under current law, being listed publicly only applies to high- and moderate-risk offenders.

A major element that SORNA seeks to remedy is the issue of “jurisdiction shopping.” This is a practice that sex offenders have used to “commit offenses in jurisdictions with more lenient requirements and take advantage of the inconsistencies between [sex offender] registries to avoid detection and scrutiny,” according to researcher John G. Malcolm in his article, Why We Need the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

My legislation would classify offenders into three categories: 15-year registrants, 25-year registrants or lifetime registrants. A 15-year registrant would have to verify his address with law enforcement every 365 days; a 25-year registrant would do so every 180 days and a lifetime registrant every 90 days. The severity of the offense would determine the category.

My proposal would also require juvenile offenders to register, but their information would not be available online unless that individual were tried as an adult.

SORNA adds components to the registry law that are important: Accountability and Communication. By forcing sex offenders to register, it gives them a degree of accountability. Because they are required to maintain updated information frequently, it forces them to contend with the public record in many facts of their lives, and it encourages them to not become repeat offenders.

By communicating this message, we are creating informed neighborhoods. Because the registry that I am proposing is a matter of public record, those living in a neighborhood know precisely who is living with them. The registry allows parents with small children to know before they move into a home whether sex offenders, particularly those with offenses against children, live in the vicinity.

Writing in The Federalist Society, author Malcomb concludes that “SORNA is a practical, workable and effective piece of legislation that assists law enforcement and the general public alike who desire to keep themselves and their children safe from dangerous sexual predators.”

I agree. As a legislator and as a father, nothing is more important to me than the safety of our children. We hear the refrain that knowledge is power. In this instance, it’s not just a time-worn cliché.

Is there any parent who wouldn’t want to know if a person who was convicted of a sexual-related offense moved into their neighborhood? I think the answer is pretty clear. That's my take. What's yours?


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