Congress approves sex offender notification bill
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Following the lead of several states, Congress voted in early May to require all state authorities to notify localities when convicted sex offenders who might still pose a threat settle in the area.
The legislation, modeled after a New Jersey statute known as Megan’s law, builds on a 1994 crime bill that provided for the registration of sex offenders when they were released from prison. That bill allowed, but did not require, community notification.
All states, except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, have laws requiring some form of registration for convicted child molesters. But only 15 states require that communities be notified when sex offenders move there.
Despite a pending constitutional challenge to the New Jersey law in a federal District Court in Newark, the House unanimously passed the federal measure. A provision in the federal bill making notification mandatory aims at addressing charges that many similar state laws give authorities too much discretion as to which released offenders warrant community notification.
Megan’s law is named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from a Trenton suburb who was kidnapped, raped and killed in July 1994. The man charged in her death was a neighbor who, unknown to Megan’s parents before her kidnapping, had twice been convicted of sex offenses.
In the nearly two years since New Jersey acted and a wave of states followed, full implementation of some of those laws has been blocked by court rulings. Federal courts in New York, New Jersey, Washington State and Alaska have called the notification provision an unconstitutional extra punishment after offenders had served time for their crimes. (H.R. 2137)