Bill Would Ensure State Agencies Do Not Place Homeless and Evacuated Families Near Registered Sex Offenders
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Linda R. Greenstein that would strengthen New Jersey’s sex offender registry statute – Megan’s Law – was unanimously approved today by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
“Since the horrific death of Megan Kanka nearly 20 years, New Jersey has been a leader nationally and internationally in legislation to protect our children from sexual predators,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer, vice chair of the Committee. “The law creating the statewide sex offender database has continued to evolve to meet modern needs, but we can’t stop. By ensuring that agencies are not kept in the dark regarding which dangerous individuals are living where, we can continue to provide safe living arrangements for New Jersey families.”
The bill, S-1946, would give the Department of Human Services and county and municipal welfare agencies access to the state’s sex offender registry for use when placing homeless and displaced families into emergency shelters, including hotels and motels.
The South Jersey Times recently exposed an incident from late last year when a family was evacuated to a Motel 6 in Gibbstown after the Paulsboro train derailment and hazardous chemical spill. The family, including their 12 and 15 year old daughters, was unaware that a registered sex offender – a man who was convicted of sexual assault of a 13 year-old girl – was living in the motel. The Senator notes that there are also more than 1,000 families who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy that are still living in hotels or motels.
“When disasters strike and families are left homeless, the last thing parents should have to worry about is whether the neighbors in their temporary housing are dangers to their children,” said Senator Greenstein. “Megan’s Law has helped parents across the state stay informed regarding the dangerous individuals living next door, but without needed communication between state agencies, children can inadvertently be put in unsafe living situations. This legislation will help to fill a loophole to ensure the continued safety of our kids.”
Megan’s Law was passed in 1994, only one-month after the sexual assault and murder of seven-year-old Hamilton resident Megan Kanka by her neighbor, a repeat sex offender. The law requires sex offenders to register with local law enforcement and, depending upon the severity of their crime, to notify community members when moving into a new neighborhood. Senator Greenstein has been a legislative leader in strengthening the law, including sponsoring legislation that would limit convicted sex offenders from serving in youth organizations and that would require certain offenders to register computer logins and passwords with the state.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.