A bill to allow municipalities to restrict where convicted sex offenders may live was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee yesterday by a unanimous vote.
The release of the bill follows a ruling by the state Supreme Court last month invalidating about 120 municipal ordinances limiting where sex offenders may reside.
Under the statewide Megan's Law, those convicted of sex crimes are required to register with local authorities. Towns have tried to weigh in on the issue with various ordinances spelling out where such offenders may live, but the courts have said the local ordinances interfere with Megan's Law.
The Supreme Court decision overturned ordinances in Cherry Hill and Galloway Township, Atlantic County. The Cherry Hill ordinance - nearly identical to Galloway Township's - banned convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of areas where children might gather, including schools, parks, and churches. In Cherry Hill, that restriction covers most of the township.
The bill approved yesterday establishes limitations for municipalities that wish to enact such ordinances.
The bill would allow municipalities to prohibit offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, public libraries, and day-care centers, for example. The bill would bar municipalities from prohibiting offenders from living in every residentially zoned area within a municipality.
Under the bill, those living in a town before such local restrictions were established would be allowed to remain in their homes.
"Local officials need to know that their efforts to protect children from sexual offenders have the full and unqualified support of the law," said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D., Camden). "Cherry Hill and many other communities supported predator-free zones because of the assurances they give residents that their children's safety is paramount. Every community in New Jersey deserves the same assurance."
The bill heads next to the full Assembly for a floor vote.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee also released a bill to enhance penalties for those who commit certain sex offenses against minors, calling for mandatory prison sentences of 25 years to life.
The bill also calls for a mandatory three-year prison sentence for anyone who knowingly harbors a sex offender to get around Megan's Law requirements.