NJ Protecting Kids From Pedophiles After Emergencies [AUDIO]
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has signed into law a bill to better protect children from sex offenders during emergencies.
The idea is to make sure kids aren't placed in the same temporary emergency housing with convicted sex offenders.
Megan's Law already requires county prosecutors to assess a sex offender's risk of re-offense and categorize that offender as a low, moderate or high risk, but until now that information wasn't legally allowed to be shared between all state agencies involved in placing people in temporary housing after an emergency like Superstorm Sandy.
"What we've learned is that we had circumstances where a mother and children were placed in a motel setting only to find out that another agency had placed a convicted sex offender two doors down from that family and neither agency, by law was allowed to talk to one another," explains Assemblyman John Burzichelli who sponsored the bill. "They could not coordinate placement and arrangements for emergency housing to everybody's benefit. This law clarifies that the agencies can and have to talk to one another so those kinds of circumstances aren't repeated."
The records and files containing Megan's Law information and documentation used to make an assessment are available to law enforcement and authorized to be released to the Department of Children and Families for use in carrying out its responsibilities.
The new law allows these records to be made available to the Department of Human Services and county and municipal welfare agencies for the exclusive use in placing homeless families and persons in emergency shelters, which include but are not limited to hotels and motels.
"We provide community notification to protect our children when they're living in their homes, so those protections should absolutely extend to emergency housing, which many families have had to sadly rely on recently following Irene and Sandy," says Burzichelli. "Let's not make life any more difficult for these families. Let's do what we can to better protect their children."
The bill passed the Assembly 75-0 in December and the Senate 37-0 in February.