I have introduced what I consider to be an important piece of legislation this Session. It proposes to modernize Indiana's eight-year old law known as "Zachary's Law", which deals with the maintenance of a list of convicted sex offenders. The current law requires a local law enforcement agency, either the city police or the Sheriff, to maintain a list of convicted sex offenders that reside within their community. Presumably, this provides satisfactory information to the public about such predatory criminals who may be living among them.
The problem with the current law is several fold. For instance, the original law arose as a result of an incident in a small Hoosier community. Keeping such a list in that sized town works, since the police department is easily accessible, and people tend to know who lives in their town. In a city and community the size of Fort Wayne, such a list is far less helpful or accessible.
The current law also doesn't require the list to detail where the sex offender is residing; just that he or she lives in the county. That's no help to parents who might want to know if such a person lives in their neighborhood, or near their children's school.
The fact is Indiana was on the cutting edge of this issue eight years ago; today, we have fallen way behind. According to testimony before a special legislative committee, 36 states now require either the picture of a sex offender on the internet, or at least the address of their residence to be available to public inspection. Several states require both, which is what my Senate Bill 367 would require.
We want to require a current picture of a convicted sex offender to be placed on a centralized web site so that people in any community in Indiana can find out, by the click of a button on their computer, where these people are living. We also want to require a current address to be maintained. In today's society, where we enjoy technological innovations unthinkable 20 years ago, there is no reason why we cannot make this information available on the net.
Some have criticized laws such as this as an invasion of the sex offender's privacy, and a continuation of the punishment for the crime after the offender has already served their jail time.
My response to this argument is that these sex offenders, particularly child molesters, are normally incurable. As such, the likelihood of these criminals repeating their offense is high. Though I am a champion of our right to privacy, the public's right to know this information must come before the criminal's right to privacy. We're not just talking about a public service; we're talking about the safety of our children! There can be no higher priority than that.
The complicating factor in getting this law on the books will be the cost, because to work, we will have to have every Sheriff in the State maintain a web site, and we will also have to have a central site which will serve as a link to these web sites. The State of Indiana maintains a system known as Access Indiana (www.ai.org ), which would be the ideal central location to maintain a link to the web sites of Indiana's 92 counties. We will have to find some money somewhere at a time when our State is facing a budget crisis, but where there is a will, there is a way.
Keep an eye on the progress of this bill and its companion in the House (sponsored by Rep. Ron Herrell of Kokomo, one of the leaders in our state on this issue). We'll be doing our best to forge a bi-partisan coalition to get Zachary's Law modernized and operating on a 21st century level.