“As long as there is one sex offender out there that we cannot account for, there is the potential for great harm, the potential for another victim,” said state Rep. Peter Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston).
Palumbo has again this year, in conjunction with the office of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, introduced legislation to enact the Sexual Offender Registration and Community Notification Act (SORNA), striking existing language in state law and replacing it with a statute the sponsor says will provide greater protection for Rhode Island citizens.
“This is a significant piece of legislation, a comprehensive bill that encompasses a number of issues regarding sex offenders and public information about them. But it is really about just one thing – keeping people, and especially young people, safe from sexual predators,” said Palumbo.
Palumbo spearheaded Rhode Island’s enactment of Megan’s Law, which requires the state’s parole board and courts to evaluate all sexual offenders leaving prison and determine the risk posed to the community, and also Jessica’s Law, which requires first-degree child molesters and Level 3 sex offenders to wear a global positioning system monitor.
For Kilmartin, passing SORNA is not only about a more comprehensive law that implements the provisions of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, it is also about greater protection for Rhode Island citizens.
“It is a priority of the Office of Attorney General, and me personally, to advocate for laws that better protect our community and, more so, laws that better protect our children from child sex offenders,” said Kilmartin. “The SORNA legislation will give greater protections for the citizens of Rhode Island and will give law enforcement the information to keep sex offenders accountable.”
The bill being introduced this year by Palumbo (2014-H 7425) is identical to the legislation he sponsored last year, which was passed by the House of Representatives but not taken up by the Senate.
The act would:
Provide for the registration and notification of those adults adjudicated for a sex offense and those juveniles adjudicated as an adult for a sex offense.
Recodify Department of Public Safety (State Police) control of the sex offender registry and transfers control of sex offender website from the Parole Board’s Sex Offender Community Notification Unit to the State Police.
Provide retroactive registration for those adjudicated of sex offenses, but not currently required to register, under the following circumstances: 1) The offender is currently in the criminal justice system and not subject to pre-existing sex offender registration requirements, and 2) The offender is already subject to pre-existing sex offender registration requirements.
Require offenders to provide the following information for the registry: name, date of birth, social security number, current digitized photograph, accurate physical description, driver’s license, identification card, passport, immigration documents, residence address, telephone numbers, Internet identifiers, vehicle information, employment information, school information, criminal history, fingerprints and DNA.
The act would provide a new mechanism for tiering sex offenders. Currently, tiers are determined by a risk assessment completed by the Sex Offender Board of Review. This tier classification can be appealed to Superior Court for reclassification. The new act would provide for offense-based classification, with the offender’s tier level determined by the severity of the offense.
The act also amends community notification of sex offenders. Currently, notification is achieved by local police departments and the Parole Board website. This act would streamline notification by making it web-based and automated, with the Department of Public Safety maintaining a notification website with search capabilities and a function that enables the general public to receive e-mail notification when a sex offender commences residence, employment, or school attendance within the state, a specified zip code, or a certain geographic radius.
“Under current law, it is the duty of the local law enforcement agency, the police department of a city or town in which the offender resides, to provide notification to another community if the offender moves,” said Palumbo. “This makes for a very disjointed method of notification, and requires local police to spend time on what are essentially clerical matters when they should be spending that time protecting their community. By making one central agency – the State Police – responsible for this process, [it] will free up local law enforcement resources and save communities money.”
According to statistics released last year and provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are nearly three-quarters of a million registered sex offenders in the U.S.
“And at any one time, many, many thousands of those individuals are unaccounted for,” said Palumbo. “We have done a lot in the past few years in Rhode Island to strengthen our sex offender laws and especially those involving crimes against children. But there are still gaps that need to be addressed. This legislation closes those gaps, not only for those currently serving time for sex offenses, but also those who have completed their incarceration or who are appealing their sex offender tier level, and those who re-enter the system through a subsequent criminal conviction.”
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Finance. Among the co-sponsors are Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) and Rep. Joseph A. Trillo (R-Dist. 24, Warwick).