Law Will 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 will strengthen New Jersey’s sex offender registry statute – Megan’s Law – has been signed into law.
“In the nearly twenty years since Megan Kanka was horrifically murdered, the state has made great efforts to protect children from sexual predators,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “Since Megan’s Law went into effect, sex offenders must register and families must be made aware of serious offenders living in their neighborhoods. When extreme circumstances occur and a family must be evacuated or displaced from their home, parents need peace of mind that their children will not be put in harm’s way. This law will ensure that agencies responsible for these housing placements have access to information to protect children from dangerous individuals, so we can continue to provide safe, temporary housing for New Jersey’s families. It is imperative that Megan’s Law continues to evolve to ensure that children throughout the state are protected. With the enactment of this legislation, we are doing just that.”
The law, S-1946, gives 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.
Earlier this year, The South Jersey Times exposed an incident from where 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 March 21, there were still roughly 495 people 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 and 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 unanimously by the Legislature. It takes effect immediately.