NJ: Sex-offender registry on hold.
November 21, 2000
TRENTON -- Lawmakers yesterday postponed a vote on a
bill to create an Internet directory of sex offenders so they
could amend it to satisfy real estate agents who feared it
would subject them to lawsuits.
The sponsor of the bill, Assemblyman Joel Weingarten,
R-Millburn, agreed to amend it to clarify that home sellers
and real estate agents could not be held liable for failing to
tell a buyer that a sex offender lives near a home.
Weingarten said he expects the bill to be posted for a vote
during the next Assembly session Dec. 11. State voters on
Nov. 7 voted by a 3-to-1 margin to amend the state
constitution to clear the way for the Internet directory.
Currently, those notified by police about a sex offender
under Megan's Law are prohibited from telling anyone else.
The law therefore protects home sellers from any charge
that they failed to disclose information about a sex
Weingarten's bill, which is backed by Gov. Christie
Whitman, would require the state to list all sex offenders
registered under Megan's Law on the Internet with their
photos, addresses, crimes and risk classifications. Real
estate agents fear their protection under the current law
would disappear once sex offender information becomes
The amendment clarifies that it would be the home buyer's
responsibility to research the Internet directory.
Weingarten said he was willing to amend the bill for the
real estate agents but wants no further delays.
"We want to make sure we can protect the public as
broadly as we can as soon as we can," he said.
Jarrod Grasso, director of government affairs for the New
Jersey Association of Realtors, said his organization
supports Weingarten's bill.
"We believe the public has a right to know, prior to buying
a house, what is going to be next door," Grasso said. "If
I'm closing on a home and have three children, I don't want
to find out the next day that there's a sex offender living
But Grasso said it was appropriate to leave the research to
the buyer. He said his association plans to print the Web
address for the Internet directory on its home purchase
contracts once the bill becomes law.
As it stands, all homeowners in a neighborhood where a
sex offender lives must be notified by the county
prosecutor, but a person with a contract to buy a home is
not entitled to go to the prosecutor and ask about the
neighborhood as a "homeowner." Only after the sale is
closed does the buyer become entitled to notification.
The constitutional amendment approved Nov. 7 aimed to
clear the way for lawmakers to expand notification under
Megan's Law beyond the narrow restrictions imposed by
state and federal courts.
The problem, however, is that the courts that have
interpreted New Jersey's law -- including the state
Supreme Court and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Philadelphia -- have relied primarily on the U.S.
Constitution in imposing restrictions to protect the privacy
State Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. acknowledges
that legal challenges are inevitable but wants to test the
limits of Megan's Law in federal court. Because a federal
appeals court upheld an Internet directory of sex offenders
in Tennessee, he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately
will rule on the issue.
Source: New Jersey Online/The Times, by Peter Aseltine.