Citing the need to protect children from sexual predators, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin's legislation to create the first-ever "Child Safe Zones" in Rhode Island is scheduled to be heard before the House and Senate Judiciary committees this week.
The act – H7764, sponsored by Representative Mia Ackerman (D-District 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and S2751, sponsored by Senator Stephen R. Archambault (D-District 22, Johnston, North Providence, Smithfield) – would prohibit any facility that provides programs or services intended primarily for minors from employing a registered sex offender. Both the House and Senate Judiciary committees are scheduled to hear the bill on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
A "child safe zone" is defined as: any private, municipal, county, or state fair or carnival when a minor is present on the premises; any children's arcade, an amusement center having coin or token operated devices for entertainment, movie theatre or facilities providing programs or services intended primarily for minors, when a minor is present; a public or nonpublic elementary or secondary school, child care facility, or public library; any place intended primarily for use by minors including but not limited to a playground, a children's play area, recreational or sport-related activity area, a swimming or wading pool, or a beach; and any health care facility intended primarily for minors or when a minor is present.
"It is alarming that there is currently no provision in law that prohibits those under a duty to register as sex offenders from working in an environment that provides them daily close proximity to our children," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Our children are very vulnerable in these settings due to the fact that in these environments, they must rely on the trust of adults around them. It is essential that our laws provide a safe surroundings for our children when they are at their most vulnerable. This act helps to ensure protection of our children from sexual predators."
Representative Ackerman, a strong advocate for child protection issues, said, "I proposed this bill on behalf of the Attorney General so I could give other parents peace of mind. I want them to be able to drop their kids off at the playground or a daycare center without a second thought about the potential harm that could come to them. We cannot stop every bad thing that happens to our children, but we can certainly put the proper protections in place to help prevent tragedy."
Senator Archambault added, "I am deeply committed to protecting our children from any twisted individual who would take advantage of them and do them harm, especially sexual harm. I, along with the Attorney General, am committed to taking all the steps we can to ensure our kids' safety. That begins with enacting this legislation."
The individual who made the final hiring decision for an entity that is a child safe zone that knowingly employs an offender is subject to a $1,000 fine for each day the offender is employed. Those offenders who knowingly misrepresent or omit his or her sex offender registration status to obtain employment in a child safety zone would, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony and be subject to imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of $5,000, or both.
This act would also prohibit any offender from owning or operating any entity that is a child safe zone. Those found in violation would, upon conviction be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, be subject to imprisonment for up to five years and a $5,000 fine, or both.
This act is meant to require an affirmative inquiry as to the sexual registration status of potential employees, operators and owners and to prohibit those who are under a duty to register as a sex offender from employment in, operation or ownership of a child safety zone. This act does not require a background check of potential employees or owners and operators of a child safe zone.
In fact, a background check does not provide the sexual registration status of an individual; a background check merely shows whether an individual has been convicted of a disqualifying offense. Under most of the disqualifying information laws, only seven of the offenses that require registration as a sex offender are considered disqualifying. Some of those offenses not included are kidnapping or false imprisonment of a minor, enticement of a child, child pornography offenses and video voyeurism. Further, even if employers check Rhode Island's sexual offender website, that website does not contain information on Level I offenders or juvenile offenders.
States, counties and municipalities across the country have enacted child safe zones of some nature. Whether it is designating a zoned area where a sex offender is not allowed to be, entities that a sex offender is not allowed to volunteer or be employed at, or zones where a sex offender may not reside, at least 19 states have laws in place that restrict certain employment and volunteer opportunities for registered sex offenders.