Subject: Legislative update to share with your contacts, from Chris Dornin
Working for Smarter Criminal Laws
Legislative update February 3, 2010
By Chris Dornin, 228-9610
Committee opposes sex offender residency restrictions
The House Criminal Justice Committee voted 17-0 Feb 2 to kill HB 1442, which would ban sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or daycare. The Dover District Court shot down a similar city ordinance last August as unconstitutional.
A competing bill, HB 1484, to stop towns and cities from imposing any sex offender residency restrictions passed the committee, 17-2. Both bills appear on the House consent calendar for the session Feb. 10, all but assuring one dies and the other moves to the Senate.
ManyHouse members believe residency restrictions would undermine the safety of kids by uprooting sex offenders from their homes and forcing them to go underground. Rep. Delmar Burridge, D-Keene, said these policies have failed in other states. “The evidence is overwhelming,” Burridge said. “It doesn’t work.”
Child and Family Services, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Department of Safety opposed housing restrictions bill at a public hearing in January. It was to protect kids.
Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, chaired the committee executive session on residency restrictions. “We’re making it easier for cities and towns,” she said, “by telling them it’s against state law to do this.”
Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, chaired the Criminal Justice Committee when his party controlled the legislature. “When towns get upset about sex offenders, it’s an emotional issue,” Welch said. “They try to shift the problem to the town next door. But Iowa lost track of 40 percent of its sex offenders (under a residency restriction law). They just didn’t register anymore.”
Rep. Beth Rodd, D-Bradford, the prime sponsor of HB 1484, said her goal is to encourage sex offenders to comply with the law and become productive members of society again.
Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester, spoke against her bill, saying it would violate the principle of local control. “I agree they drive people underground,” he said. “I just don’t like the state telling towns what to do.”
Another residency restriction bill pending
The so-called Raymond Guay bill, HB 1447, would ban sex offenders from living within 25 miles of their victim or any relatives of the victim. It has strong support and opposition. The prime sponsor, Rep. Fran Wendelboe, R-New Hampton, testified that her constituents were outraged to learn Guay had moved into town. He causedasimilar outcrywhen he briefly lived in Manchester and Chichester. Wendleboe said Guay shot a child, later escaped from prison, kidnapped a married couple while on the lam, and stabbed another inmate in prison. Guay was also a sex offender, Wendelboe assumed, because the 11-year-old boy he killed was dressed only in his underpants outdoors in winter.
“A sex offender can never change his stripes,” she warned.
Sen. Deborah Reynolds, D-Plymouth, a co-sponsor, read a letter into the record for a constituent unable to sleep at night because her family lives near Guay.
The Civil Liberties Union and others told lawmakers the bill was unconstitutional because it closely resembles the former Dover ordinance.
“It’s also unenforceable,” said Claire Ebel, the ACLU executive director. “A sex offender can’t possibly know where all those relatives live.”
Two convicted sex offenders spoke against the bill, saying it would make them homeless. Leigh Sharps, a New Hampton selectwoman, asked Wendelboe to submit the bill on behalf of her town because the neighbors learned almost by accident that Guay was nearby.
“I only wanted a bill to include murderers of children on the public registry,” Sharps testified. “I didn’t ask for a residency restriction on all sex offenders, and I hope you take it out.”
Bill would study legalizing pot
The Criminal Justice Committee recently voted 16-2 to study the legalization of marijuana for use by adults, allowing the state to tax and regulate its sales. Rep. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, authored the blurb for the bill in the calendar for the Feb. 3 floor session.
“There was tremendous support for the concept brought forth in this bill,” Chandley wrote. “The committee was divided as to the particulars outlined in HB 1652 and strongly urges Interim Study. It is understood that this is bold legislation with far-reaching consequences. Nonetheless, the committee believes that this measure should be given thorough, timely and serious consideration.
Bill would gag sex offenders from contacting their victims
HB 1508 would ban a convicted sex offender from initiating contact with their victim, even through a lawyer, journalist or family member. This writer warned lawmakers the bill looks unconstitutional because it lumps all offenders together, even those who could safely restore their relationship to a victim within the family. It would also keep a reporter from interviewing both a sex offender and their victim; because the police never reveal the names of the victims to the press.
Grace Mattern, director of the Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence, urged lawmakers to pass the bill because sex abuse traumatizes the victim for life. An incest victim, now an adult, testified with great emotion that she let her paroled abuser attend family gatherings as an act of healing, but he started hitting on her again. Philip Horner, a New Hampshire sex offender paroled to Vermont, told lawmakers a victim can readily obtain a restraining order if the perpetrator does anything threatening. He asked what the offender should do if the victim makes the first contact.
Claire Ebel of the Civil Liberties Union supported the bill, but suggested amending it to protect freedom of the press and allow contact in limited and justifiable circumstances. A subcommittee on the bill meets Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 9 a.m. in Room 204 of the Legislative Office Building
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