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Senate Committee Clears Madden Bill Allowing Towns To Create ‘Pedophile-Free Zones’

Bill Responds to 2009 Court Decision That Invalidated More Than 100 Local Laws

TRENTON – Legislation Senator Fred Madden sponsored to permit municipalities to restrict the ability of known sex offenders to live near places where children congregate was today released by a Senate committee.

The bill (S-837) responds to a 2009 state Supreme Court decision which invalidated 118 local ordinances that sought to create such “pedophile-free zones” within communities. The Court cited the fact that Megan’s Law, which it held was the primary source of state law dealing with sexual offenders, is silent on the subject of restricting where registered sex offenders may live, and thereby preempted the ability of towns to enact local ordinance.

“Communities that wanted nothing more than to protect their children were thrown a curveball by the Courts,” said Madden (D-Gloucester/Camden). “By saying that the only impediment to allowing these local laws to stand was the lack of permissive, standardized language in state law, the Court essentially instructed the Legislature enshrine these zones in statute. This legislation would do just that.”

The Madden measure would permit a municipality to enact an ordinance that would prevent most sex offenders convicted of committing a crime against a minor from residing within 500 feet of a school, playground or child care center. However, towns could not create a zoning scenario that would essentially block an offender from living anywhere within the municipality.

The bill also would prohibit locating school bus stops and child care centers near the residence of high risk sex offenders.

“For many towns across the state, this measure would provide the ability to enact common sense, standardized ordinances that not only will keep children safe, but stand up to legal muster,” said Madden. “But more importantly, for the families living in those towns, it would provide them priceless peace of mind.”

The bill was released 4-0 with one abstention from the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, and now heads to the desk of the Senate President, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.

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