Ninth District Legislators Fear Progress on Jessica Lunsford Act May Be Slowed
Connors, Rumpf and Gove see the passage of the possible passage of the Assembly bill as a blow to the legislation, which deals with child sex offenders.
A bill concerning the Jessica Lunsford Act will go before the Assembly Thursday morning, Feb. 21, but it’s not the same version the Ninth Legislative District has pushed, and the delegation is concerned with what it called “weaker legislation.”
In an email sent to Galloway Township Council and supporters of the law Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 19, the delegation expressed concerns about the harboring provision.
When introduced on June 8 of last year, Bill A-2027 called for the harboring or concealment of a sex offender to be a second-degree crime, with certain exceptions reserved for the crime to be considered a third or fourth-degree crime. Offenders would be subject to increased penalties for harboring a known sex offender.
On Sept. 27, the Assembly Judiciary Committee amended the bill to eliminate the stricter penalty. The bill was adopted with amendments on Dec. 17, 2012.
The bill proposes a sentence of between 25 years and life in prison, in which a person convicted of sexual assault against a child younger than 13 must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole.
The bill is similar to that of S-380/S-642, with the only difference being the harboring provision. Bill S-380/S-642 sponsored by Sen. Christopher J. Connors and Sen. Jeff Van Drew, classifies harboring as a fourth-degree crime subject to a minimum of six months in prison.
Currently, those found guilty of the crime, classified as first degree aggravated sexual assault, are sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison, a $200,000 fine or both.
Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove are co-sponsors of A-2027. District 21 Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, District 11 Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, District 24 Assemblywoman Allison Littell McHose and District 22 Assemblyman Jerry Green are the primary sponsors.
Connors, Rumpf and Gove constitute the Ninth District Delegation, which is unhappy not just with the deletion of the harboring provision, but with the prospect of slowing down the process of getting the Jessica Lunsford Act passed.
In October of last year, the New Jersey State Senate passed S-380/S-642.
“Our Delegation is extremely disappointed that the Assembly Leadership posted this watered-down version of the Jessica Lunsford Act,” the Delegation wrote in its email. “We find it interesting that the Assembly Leadership chose this course of action despite the fact that S-380 garnered near unanimous support in the Senate. This is troubling from two aspects. First, the version being considered by the Assembly on Thursday does not include a harboring provision. Second, passing A-2027 will further delay the enactment of the Jessica Lunsford Act as the Senate would be required to reconsider the legislation.”
The legislation is named after Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by a registered sex offender in 2005. Lunsford was from Florida, and many states have enacted “Jessica’s Law” since. New Jersey is one of the few remaining states that have not, but the process had picked up speed after languishing for the past few years, stemming from a town hall meeting in Galloway between the Delegation and Galloway and Port Republic residents last February.
Following that meeting, the delegation began an online petition drive calling for legislative action to be taken on the Jessica Lunsford Act as well as other sex offender legislation.
In a matter of three weeks in the fall, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee passed the bill, followed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the State Senate.
Connors, Rumpf and Gove fear that progress may be slowing down.
The full text of the delegation’s message can be found below:
Dear Mayor and Council Members:
With the understanding that, over the past several years, the Galloway Township Council has strongly advocated for the enactment of more forceful state sex offender laws, this is an update regarding the "Jessica Lunsford Act". As you are aware, the Act is named after the Florida girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a convicted sex offender. Please be advised that this update is also being provided to residents who signed our Delegation’s online Jessica Lunsford Act petition drive that was established following conversations with Galloway residents who have an active interest in advancing this legislation.
As you are aware, in October of last year, legislation (S-380) entitled the “Jessica Lunsford Act” passed the Senate and, subsequently, was sent on to the Assembly for consideration. Since that time, our Delegation has strongly advocated for the Assembly Leadership to post S-380, given the strength of its provisions and that the legislation has already been passed by the Senate.
Recently, we were apprised the Assembly scheduled a floor vote for Thursday, February 21, 2013 on another, weaker version of the “Jessica Lunsford Act.” The measure that has been placed on the Assembly voting board list is A-2027, which would impose mandatory terms of imprisonment on persons convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13. Under the measure, the person would be sentenced to a specific term of between 25 years and life imprisonment.
Notably, A-2027 differs from S-380 in that it does not contain a harboring provision. Under S-380, which was passed by the Senate, it would be a crime of the fourth degree for a person to hinder the apprehension or prosecution of a person who has not registered or verified his address with the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Our Delegation is extremely disappointed that the Assembly Leadership posted this watered-down version of the “Jessica Lunsford Act.” We find it interesting that the Assembly Leadership chose this course of action despite the fact that S-380 garnered near unanimous support in the Senate. This is troubling from two aspects. First, the version being considered by the Assembly on Thursday does not include a harboring provision. Second, passing A-2027 will further delay the enactment of the “Jessica Lunsford Act” as the Senate would be required to reconsider the legislation.
New Jersey residents have already waited too long for the enactment of the "Jessica Lunsford Act" in their state. Like so many of our constituents, we are discouraged with Legislative Leadership’s constant delays in this matter that directly concerns the health, welfare and safety of our most vulnerable citizens – our children.
As cosponsors and strong supporters of the "Jessica Lunsford Act," our Delegation has a long standing track record of working with proactive constituents, such as you, to strengthen New Jersey’s sex offender laws to more effectively safeguard our children and communities. Mandatory sentencing for the most dangerous sex offenders is critical, given the propensity of these predators to reoffend.
Moving forward, our Delegation will continue to advocate for the enactment of the strongest possible version of the “Jessica Lunsford Act.” Given your active interest in this issue, you will want to know that important information regarding New Jersey’s sex offender laws has been prepared by the State’s Attorney General’s Office and made available online at the following link: http://www.njsp.org/info/reg_sexoffend.html. We believe you will find this website to be a valuable resource.
Certainly, we will apprise you of any further developments regarding the “Jessica Lunsford Act.” In the meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments regarding this communication or any other State matter, please do not hesitate to contact us. As always, we stand ready to serve the constituents of the 9th Legislative District.