TRENTON – In an effort to protect children from sexual predators and reduce recidivism, Senators Fred H. Madden, Jim Beach, Linda R. Greenstein and Christopher J. Connors 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 was unanimously approved today by the full Senate.
“In recent years, too many children have fallen victim to the horrific attacks of sexual predators. As long as these threats persist, we need to provide a way for municipalities to address these security concerns within their local community,” said 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 or moderate 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.
“When parents send their children off to school, they do so with the confidence that their kids will be kept out of harm’s way,” said Beach, D-Camden. “Although we have made enormous progress in the fight to protect children from sex offenders, it is clear that more needs to be done. Through this measure, schools, playgrounds, and bus stops will continue to be safe places for them to learn and play.”
“The statewide registry established under Megan’s Law has provided parents with crucial information about the dangerous individuals living next door. But we also have an obligation to ensure the safety of places where our children congregate,” Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “By closing this loophole, this bill takes the next step to protect children against serious sexual predators.”
Amendments set forth by the Senate Law and Public Safety 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 were 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. Under the bill’s amendments, sex offenders would be informed of this residence restriction when they are notified of their obligation to register under Megan’s Law. Finally, the bill would make it a third degree crime for a sex offender to violate the residence restrictions set forth by this legislation.
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 Senate approved the measure by a vote of 38-0. It now heads to the General Assembly for final legislative approval.
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