Senate bills would protect children, communities from sexual predators

Completion of an on-time, commonsense state budget has been the top concern in Albany in recent days, but other pieces of business have still been on the legislative agenda. Recently, the senate passed several bills designed to protect children and communities from sex offenders. The measures require group homes to notify municipalities of the sex offender status of potential residents, restrict child care providers from hiring employees with criminal convictions, and increase penalties for sexual abuse and sexual contact with minors.

Senate bill 5153 – a measure I sponsored, would require disclosure and notification to a municipality when a proposed group home or community residence has been selected as housing for a sex offender, and to disclose the number of residents who are sex offenders.

I drafted this legislation after hearing from concerned citizens in the Town of Danby who were caught off guard by a plan to house sex offenders at a group home. If signed into law, the measure would work in tandem with the Sex Offender Registry, and ensure that communities are not kept in the dark when it comes to the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders.

Under current law, several factors must be disclosed to the public when a location is being considered for a group home for the developmentally disabled. The home’s address, type of residence, number of residents, and community supports must all be revealed. My bill would also force group home proposals to list one other key piece of information - the sex offender status of potential residents.

Public safety should not be put at risk due to legal loopholes. Clearly, neighbors deserve to know if a group home will be housing convicted sex offenders. Omitting this piece of information, either deliberately or inadvertently, is wrong and could endanger neighboring residents.

Senate bill 1472A – would ensure that young children are not being cared for by felons with a history of serious crimes including sexual abuse of children.

Currently, the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) can approve a child care license or employment application – even if the applicant has a criminal history – if OCFS thinks the approval will not jeopardize the health, safety, or welfare of the children in the center, program, or home. This legislation requires OCFS to deny the license or employment application if a background check reveals any felony convictions in New York State or any other jurisdiction for a sex offense, a crime against a child, or a crime involving violence, or if a conviction for a felony drug-related offense occurred within the past five years.

This legislation closes a loophole in our current laws and better protects children enrolled in day care centers throughout New York State. This change will guarantee that no one with a history of committing crimes of sexual abuse will work in a day care setting. Parents should know that when someone is charged with the daily care of young children, their children will be safe.

Senate bill 6679 – would increase the penalty for sexual abuse in the second degree, from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony. Under current law, a felony charge is only applicable if there is force, if the victim is incapable of giving consent, or if the victim is less than 11-years-old. Perpetrators who fondle or come into sexual contact with victims between the ages of 11 and 13 are only eligible for up to one year in prison.

Senate bill 6680 – would increase criminal penalties for sexual contact between a minor and a “person in a position of trust” – a person who is responsible for the health, education, welfare, or supervision of a child. The bill would increase these crimes to violent felony offenses.

These measures would improve public safety and I am hopeful the assembly will join the senate in approving them this session so they can be sent to the governor for his consideration.

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