The Jessica Lunsford Act, which proposes stricter punishment for child sex offenders, moved out of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee with a 5-0 ‘yes’ vote on Thursday, Sept. 20. It will now move into second reading in the Senate.
The bill, S642/S380, proposes a mandatory term of 25 years to life for aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13. The guilty party must serve 25 years of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
The bill also proposes increased penalties for harboring certain sex offenders, classifying this 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.
Sen. Christopher J. Connors and Sen. Jeff Van Drew are among the sponsors of the senate bills. Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove are among the co-sponsors of identical legislation in the Assembly, A2027. That legislation was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee in January, but that committee has yet to consider the bill, according to the New Jersey Legislature’s website.
The Ninth District Delegation, made up of Connors, Rumpf and Gove and representing Galloway Township, released the following comments following the committee’s approval:
“Like many of our constituents who are advocating for strengthening the state’s sexual predator laws, we are elated by the Committee’s strong showing of support for enacting the Jessica Lunsford Act here in New Jersey. The legislation’s release from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee represents a significant step forward, given the fiscal aspects of incarceration costs in relation to the sentencing provisions of the Jessica Lunsford Act.
“Given the unspeakable nature of these crimes, the sentencing called for under this legislation is appropriate and necessary in serving the interest of public safety. Mandatory sentencing would take the worst offenders, who deliberately target the most vulnerable children, off our street to serve a sentence that could, very well, be for the rest of their lives. Further, our Delegation strongly believes the sentencing enhancements would bring an added measure of justice to victims and their loved ones as well as to the community as a whole.
“In an effort to advance the Jessica Lunsford Act through the legislative process, our Delegation started an online petition to allow concerned individuals the opportunity to participate in this effort. Our Delegation had the petition, which has been signed by more than 250 people to date, entered into the official public record of testimony during the committee hearing to further demonstrate the level of public support for the Jessica Lunsford Act.”
Nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford 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 that have not.
In February, the Ninth District Delegation held a town hall meeting in Galloway Township, at which time resident Anna Jezycki confronted Connors, Gove and Rumpf as to why nothing had been done at that point to move the legislation forward in the state.
The delegation then started an online petition drive through their legislative website calling for legislative action to be taken on the Jessica Lunsford Act as well as other sex offender legislation.
Jezycki was disappointed when, in 2009, the State Supreme Court invalidated a law that would allow municipalities to ban sex offenders from living within a designated distance of any school, park, playground, public library or daycare center.
Galloway Township previously had laws in place stating sex offenders can’t live within 2,500 feet of those types of areas, prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Connors, Rumpf and Gove are also the prime sponsors of legislation that would prohibit a convicted sex offender from living within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school, playground, or childcare center.
Additionally, they are the prime sponsors of the legislation that would require sex offenders be classified as to their risk for re-offense prior to their release from prison.