Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. House Bill Would Require Sex-Offender Notification Some Say Measure May Protect Children; Others Call It Violation

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. House Bill Would Require Sex-Offender Notification Some Say Measure May Protect Children; Others Call It Violation

Article excerpt

States would be required to inform the public when a released sex offender considered a danger to the public settles in a neighborhood under a bill debated in the House on Tuesday.

"Today we're putting the rights of children above the rights of convi cted sex offenders," said Rep. Dick Zimmer, R-N.J.

The bill is named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton Township, N.J., who was killed two years ago. A convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her home - unbeknownst to the Kankas - is accused of the crime.

New Jersey then passed a bill called "Megan's Law," and the federal 1994 crime law included similar provisions that allowed states to inform communities when a known sexual offender is released from prison and moving into their area.

This bill would require such notification. But it would still let states rate the danger of offenders and determine how much public warning would be appropriate, from telling just local schools and youth groups to ordering door-to-door visits with each neighbor. If states fail to establish a system by September 1997, they would lose some federal anti-crime funds.

"Sexual offenders are different," said Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "No matter what we do, the minute they get back on the street, many of them resume their hunt for victims, beginning a restless and unrelenting prowl for children, innocent children, to molest, abuse, and in the worst cases, to kill."

Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., raised a voice in opposition. "Our Constitution says to us that a criminal defendant is presumed innocent until he or she is proven guilty," he said. "The underlying assumption of this bill is that once you have committed one crime of this kind, you are presumed guilty for the rest of your life."

Watt added that he found it odd after hearing Republicans repeatedly propound the importance of states' rights, "all of sudden the Big Brother government must direct the states to do something that isn't even necessarily a federal issue. …

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