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(TRENTON) — The “Jessica Lunsford Act” — legislation Assemblywoman Joan Voss sponsored to enhance the penalties for sexual offenses committed against children and to punish individuals who harbor sex offenders — was unanimously released Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bill (A-1719) is modeled upon a Florida state law named in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old girl in that state who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a known sex offender in 2005.

“Depraved individuals who prey on children in the most senseless and unspeakable ways deserve no quarter and under this bill they would receive none,” said Voss (D-Bergen). “There should be no wiggle room and nothing should be left open to interpretation when it comes to sending the most violent sex offenders behind bars for life — where they belong.”

The bill would create a new crime of first degree sexual assault for sex-offense cases when the victim is less than 18 years of age, which would carry a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years to life — a convicted offender would be required to serve at least 25 years before being eligible for parole. The measure also would upgrade penalties for aggravated sexual assault against a minor to a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Additionally, any individual found to be knowingly harboring a released sex offender in an attempt to circumvent the current Megan’s Law registration requirements would face a mandatory three-year prison sentence.

“Everyone who has worked so hard to move this bill and position it for passage should take pride in knowing they are playing a role in making New Jersey an even safer place for kids,” said Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer), chairwoman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee that released the bill. “I’m pleased to see it get the committee’s support and votes.”

The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.

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