Bill Would Ensure State Agencies Do Not Place Homeless and Evacuated Families Near Registered Sex Offenders
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Linda R. Greenstein and Fred Madden that would strengthen New Jersey’s sex offender registry statute – Megan’s Law – was unanimously approved today by the full Senate, receiving final legislative approval.
“It has been nearly 20 years since Megan Kanka was brutally murdered, and since then, we have made great strides to ensure the safety of New Jersey’s children from sexual predators,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer. “It is imperative for the continued protection of our kids that the legislation evolves to keep up when issues regarding the sex offender registry arise – such as the need to provide safe temporary housing. This bill will strengthen Megan’s Law by ensuring that agencies are not kept in the dark regarding which dangerous individuals are living where, so 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 Senators note that as of January 25, there were still roughly 1,500 families who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy living in hotels or motels.
“Families who are already dealing with the hardships of being evacuated from – or even worse of losing – their homes, should not be worried about who is in the motel room next door and whether their children are safe in their newfound environment,” said Senator Madden, D-Gloucester/Camden. “By providing those agencies that are in charge of placing families into temporary housing with the necessary information to ensure that the area is free from sex offenders, we can ensure the continued safety of our kids. This is common sense legislation that will close a dangerous loophole in the law.”
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.
The bill was passed by the General Assembly in December and now heads to the Governor.