With the passage of their House bill, lawmakers authorized legislation designating the first-ever “child safe zones” in Rhode Island, which aim to shield children from sexual predators.
Sponsored by Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) on behalf ofAttorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, the bills (2014-H 7764Aaa) prohibit any facility that provides programs or services intended primarily for minors from employing a registered sex offender.
A ”child safe zone” is defined as any private, municipal, county, or state fair or carnival when a minor is present on the premises; any children's arcade, an amusement center having coin or token operated devices for entertainment, movie theatre or facilities providing programs or services intended primarily for minors, when a minor is present; a public or nonpublic elementary or secondary school, child care facility, or public library; any place intended primarily for use by minors including but not limited to a playground, a children's play area, recreational or sport-related activity area, a swimming or wading pool, or a beach; and any health care facility intended primarily for minors or when a minor is present.
The individual who made the final hiring decision for an entity that is a child safe zone that knowingly employs an offender is subject to a $1,000 fine for each day the offender is employed. Those offenders who knowingly misrepresent or omit his or her sex offender registration status to obtain employment in a child safety zone would, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony and be subject to imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of $5,000, or both. This act would also prohibit any offender from owning or operating any entity that is a child safe zone. Those found in violation would, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony and be subject to imprisonment for up to five years and a $5,000 fine, or both.
The act also requires an inquiry as to the sexual registration status of potential employees, operators and owners and prohibits those who are under a duty to register as a sex offender from employment in, operation or ownership of a child safety zone. The language of this bill does not, however, mandate a background check. Background checks do not provide the sexual registration status of an individual or the necessary information to determine if the violator would be banned from a child safe zone. Rhode Island’s sexual offender website does not contain information on Level I offenders or juvenile offenders. At least 19 states have laws in place that restrict certain employment and volunteer opportunities for registered sex offenders.
“Parents should feel confident that their children are safe from predators when they drop them off at camp, a playground, a carnival or any venue that caters primarily to children. It is essential that our laws provide safe surroundings for our children when they are at their most vulnerable. This act helps to ensure protection of our children, and I applaud the General Assembly for strengthening our laws to protect children from sexual predators,” said Attorney General Kilmartin.
Representatives Raymond H. Johnston Jr. (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket), William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence), Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket) and Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) cosponsor the House bill. Cosponsors of the Senate bill include Senators Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick), Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter,Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich), Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) and Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston).