“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 Rep. Peter G. Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston).
Representative Palumbo 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.
On a vote of 64 to 5, the House of Representatives today approved the legislation, 2014-H 7425, sending it to the Senate for consideration.
"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 Representative Palumbo.
For Attorney General 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 sex offenders,” said the Attorney General. “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 approved legislation 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.
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,” said Representative Palumbo, “many, many thousands of those individuals are unaccounted for.”
“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,” he said. “But there are still gaps that need to be addressed. This legislation closes those gaps.”
Co-sponsors of the House bill include 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).
Representative 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.