In 1994, a New Jersey couple whose daughter had been raped and murdered by a released sex offender who, unbeknownst to them, lived in their neighborhood, began a campaign to pass laws designed to help protect other children from similar crimes. Known as “Megan’s Laws,” these state statutes broke new ground by creating state registries to keep track of the whereabouts of such criminals after they had served their jail sentences and make the information available to the public.
I introduced one of the first such proposals in the New York State Legislature and co-sponsored the version of Megan’s Law that eventually became law in our state in July of 1995. It has proven to be an effective tool in keeping communities informed about potential dangers in their neighborhoods, and we have acted a number of times to make New York’s sex offender registry even stronger.
Our most recent such undertaking was the first measure enacted into law during the current legislative session as Chapter 1 of 2006 in advance of a January 21 deadline that would have seen a number of high-risk sex offenders dropped from the listing.
A bipartisan joint legislative conference committee negotiated the agreement on significantly revamped registration requirements for sex offenders in our state. Its provisions require lifetime registration for Level 3 offenders, and persons designated as sexual predators, sexually violent offenders or predicate sex offenders. Previously, Level 3 offenders could petition the court to be removed from the registry. These offenders are considered the most likely to commit subsequent offenses, and the new law eliminates the possibility that they could ever come off the registry.
Level 2, or moderate-risk, offenders will be required to register for life. They, however, may petition the court to be removed from the registry, but only after 30 years have passed. Level 1 (low-risk) offenders – that is, those who are considered least likely to reoffend – must register for 20 years.
The federal government is currently working to create a national Megan’s Law registry, which would facilitate the tracking of released sex offenders across state lines. I hope that effort will soon be successful, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues in the State Legislature to make further revisions in New York’s Megan’s Law to meet future new federal standards.
As I noted earlier, a bipartisan conference committee arrived at last month’s agreement on strengthening registration requirements under Megan’s Law. Another such committee has been working to resolve differences between the State Assembly and the State Senate on legislation to allow sexual predators who are released from prison to be indefinitely confined in special mental institutions. Hopefully, the ability to compromise that produced last month’s agreement will again manifest itself and result in a new measure allowing civil confinement that will further safeguard our neighborhoods and be able to pass constitutional muster if challenged in the courts.