Legislation Assemblymen Troy Singleton, Timothy Eustace, Vince Mazzeo, Joseph Lagana and John McKeon sponsored to make a state law requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local police more effective was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.
The bill (A-3832) would revise New Jersey’s Megan’s Law to bring the state into compliance with the requirements of the federal “Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act” (SORNA). Under the bill, as per SORNA, information about all registered adult sex offenders would be publicly available online in a database searchable by zip code or geographic region for the duration of the offender’s legal registration obligation. Current New Jersey law only requires information for high- and moderate-risk registrants to be published online.
In addition, the measure would add the full address of an offender’s place of employment or school enrollment to the list of publicly available information and require public notification whenever an offender cannot be located or is in violation of registration requirements.
“The SORNA Internet publication system would provide the public with more information about a greater number of offenders than is available under current law,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Because SORNA employs geographically-based online searches and electronic notification instead of the outdated system of hand-delivered fliers, the bill provides for a more efficient, uniform and fiscally prudent system of registration and notification.”
Currently, New Jersey law calls for a risk-based tier classification system to categorize sex offenders. Upon receiving a sex offender’s registration form from local law enforcement, county prosecutors assess the offender’s risk of committing another sex crime in the future. Prosecutors then classify offenders as either Tier 1 (low risk), Tier 2 (moderate risk) or Tier 3 (high risk).
The offender’s tier classification determines which parties receive notification of his or her presence in the community, with local police receiving notification of Tier 1 offenders; local police, schools, day care centers and certain community organizations receiving notification of Tier 2 offenders; and those living in close proximity to the offender – in addition to the aforementioned parties – receiving notification of Tier 3 offenders. Only information regarding Tier 3 offenders and some Tier 2 offenders is available to the public online.
Under the bill’s provisions, offenders would instead be classified as either 15-year (e.g. convicted of lewdness, invasion of privacy, luring or enticing a child, receipt or transmission of child pornography), 25-year (e.g. convicted of sex trafficking, production or distribution of child pornography, knowingly promoting child prostitution) or lifetime (e.g. convicted of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault) registrants, linking classification solely to the offense committed rather than the perceived risk of the offender. Offenders would be required to verify an address with the appropriate law enforcement agency regularly according to the following schedule:
· 15-year registrants – once every 365 days
· 25-year registrants – once every 180 days
· Lifetime registrants – once every 90 days
The bill would require an offender to register with the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality in which he or she resides and be classified upon sentencing, thus eliminating the lapse in notification time possible under the current risk-based tier classification process.
“At present, the cumbersome, resource-intensive nature of the classification process can significantly delay community notification, thus detracting from the law’s overall intent,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This measure will strengthen the law by closing potential gaps and loopholes.”
“Because an offender’s tier determines which parties must receive notification and that risk assessment process takes some time, there’s the potential for a convicted sex offender to live near a school or a day care center for months without anyone in the neighborhood knowing,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “This critical legislation emphasizes the original objective of Megan’s Law to promote public safety by ensuring that members of a community know about a sex offender in their area as soon as possible.”
The bill also would require the state to provide its information to the National Sex Offender Registry and exchange it with other states when registered sex offenders relocate to or from, or travel to, New Jersey. In addition, the bill would require offenders to give law enforcement three weeks’ notice prior to any international travel.
As compliance with SORNA is required for federal Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant eligibility, transitioning to the offense-based classification process would allow New Jersey to avoid a 10 percent reduction annually in its allocation of these funds, Lagana said.
“Implementing SORNA in New Jersey will save time and money while maintaining a focus on public safety,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Furthermore, in addition to ensuring that New Jersey residents have access to the information they need to keep their families and communities safe, this legislation will enable our state to continue receiving federal dollars that help supply vital equipment and training for local police departments.”
“This legislation is about making sure that we use the resources at our disposal in the most efficient possible manner as we work to keep communities across New Jersey safe,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “These simple revisions to Megan’s Law will give parents some peace of mind and enable law enforcement officials to better identify and monitor sex offenders.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 17 states have substantially implemented SORNA, which was enacted as part of the federal “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.”
Originally enacted in 1994, Megan’s Law established a system of registration to permit law enforcement officials to identify and make the public aware of sex offenders and offenders who commit other predatory acts against children. A 2001 law authorized the establishment of an Internet registry.
The measure was advanced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, of which McKeon is chair.