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Madden/Beach/Greenstein Bill To Improve Public Safety By Clarifying Residency Guidelines For Convicted Sex Offenders Advances

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Bill Would Also Restrict Locations of Child Care Centers and School Bus Stops

TRENTON – In an effort to protect children from sexual predators and reduce recidivism, Senators Fred H. Madden, Jim Beach, and Linda R. Greenstein sponsored legislation that would permit municipalities to enact ordinances regulating where moderate and high-risk sex offenders live and restrict the locations of certain child care centers and school bus stops. The bill today cleared the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

“Recent tragedies across the country remind us that sex offenders continue to pose a danger to children, and we have an ongoing responsibility to keep our kids safe,” said Senator Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden. “This measure sends a clear message that New Jerseyans are committed to the safety of young people and we will do what it takes to protect our children against convicted sex offenders with a high risk of re-offense.”

The bill, S-570, would allow a municipality to enact an ordinance that prevents convicted sex offenders from residing within 500 feet of a school, playground, or childcare center. The ordinance would be applicable to persons subject to the registration requirements set forth in Megan’s Law, who have been convicted of a sex offense in which the victim was under 18 years of age. Persons whose risk of re-offense has been determined to be low would be exempt from provisions of the bill.

The municipal ordinance would not apply if: the person is required to serve a sentence at a correctional institution, is admitted to a mental health facility, or receives services at an institution or facility within the parameters defined by the bill; the parole board, after considering the person’s housing options, determines that a needs-based exception is required; or the court that discharges the person from a psychiatric facility determines that an exception is appropriate.

In addition, the bill would prohibit a school board from establishing a school bus stop within 250 feet of the residence of a moderate or high risk sex offender, unless relocation of the bus stop would create a more dangerous condition for a child. The bill would also prohibit child care centers from being located within 500 feet of the residence of a moderate or high risk sex offender.

“The Legislature has made enormous progress in the fight to protect New Jersey’s children from sexual predators,” said SenatorBeach, D-Camden. “But more needs to be done to improve public safety, especially in areas that are frequented by minors. This bill is about looking out for the well-being of our children, so that schools, playgrounds, and bus stops continue to be safe places for them to learn and play.”

“Megan’s Law has helped parents across the state stay informed regarding the dangerous individuals living next door, but without restrictions on areas where minors often congregate, children can inadvertently end up in unsafe situations,” Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “This legislation will help to fill that loophole and ensure the continued safety of our kids.”

Amendments, approved by the Committee, would prohibit the issuance of permits for the construction or repair of any building to be used for a child care center, if it would be located within 500 feet of the residence of a moderate or high risk sex offender. Furthermore, a moderate or high risk sex offender would be prohibited from moving to a residence within 500 feet of the site of the child care center. The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee amendments would also require that sex offenders be informed of this residence restriction when they are notified of their obligation to register under Megan’s Law. Finally, the amendments would also make it a third degree crime for a sex offender to violate the residence restriction.

In 2009, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling in G.H. v. Twp. of Galloway, 199 N.J. 135 that struck down municipal ordinances in Galloway Township and Cherry Hill Township, which restricted where convicted sex offenders could live. The ruling subsequently invalidated similar laws that had been adopted in at least 113 municipalities throughout the state.

The Supreme Court’s opinion centered on legislative intent, maintaining that the Legislature intended to preclude or preempt local action pursuant to Megan’s Law – a statewide measure that is now law, which codifies guidelines for sex offender registration and community notification. S-570 is one of several bills introduced in response to the Galloway ruling. The bill would effectively override the court’s decision by expressly granting municipalities the authority to pass local ordinances pursuant to Megan’s Law.

The measure was approved by the Committee with a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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