Fayetteville Observer: New premises law seriously flawed

Editorial Board . . . Protecting our children from extreme danger is one of our most solemn obligations. And protecting them from sexual predators needs to be among our highest priorities.

That’s why it’s so important to monitor and supervise convicted sex offenders, because there is a too-strong possibility that they will commit the crime again.

So we have sex-offender registries that track where convicted offenders live and work. We have laws that separate them from children, barring them from day-care centers, schools and other places where children congregate. And we keep them subject to those regulations long after they have been released from jail and even parole. Sex offenders face greater monitoring and supervision than even paroled murderers.

A tough new North Carolina law takes effect Thursday, and it imposes long-term penalties on sex offenders that are simply too harsh.

A story in Thursday’s Observer related the dilemma faced by a former offender who works at a car-repair shop within 300 feet of the Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland County and a day-care center. Under the new law, if he goes to work Thursday, or any day thereafter, he’ll be arrested. More than 650 registered offenders in Cumberland County alone could face the same problem. In cities, especially, it may be difficult to find a place of employment that’s at least 300 feet from a place where children congregate.

Experts on sex-offender laws say this makes North Carolina’s statute tougher than any in the country except Alabama’s. It could bar offenders from even working in, or patronizing, businesses such as Walmart or McDonald’s.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for maintaining the offender registry here, for tracking offenders and for arresting violators. Ronnie Mitchell, the lawyer for the Sheriff’s Office, says the law is too broad and punitive and should be rewritten and more carefully targeted. Offenders who abuse children under 13, he says, should get more restrictions than, say, someone who has consensual sex with an older minor and doesn’t even realize it’s a violation of the law until later.

We would expect that level of distinction in the law, and the General Assembly should put it there. There are varying levels of sex offenses, and the harshest restrictions should be applied to the most flagrant offenders – the ones who target young children.

Lawsuits against this new law are expected soon. Lawmakers need to fix the problem in the next session. (From the Fayetteville Observer)

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