STOP SEX OFFENDERS | NJ: GOP puts "Parental rights" bills on Assembly Agenda
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NJ: GOP puts "Parental rights" bills on Assembly Agenda.

November 20, 2000

TRENTON -- "Parental rights" will be the theme trumpeted by Republican leaders in the state Assembly today as legislators take up two hot-button issues.

Assembly Speaker Jack Collins, R-Pittsgrove, has called for a vote on his bill asking voters to amend the state Constitution to permit a requirement that parents be notified before a minor child has an abortion or other medical procedure.

Also on the agenda is a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Joel Weingarten, R-Millburn, to mandate that the state create an Internet directory of all sex offenders registered under Megan's Law, including each offender's photo, address, crime and risk classification. The directory would be available to any parent with a personal computer.

New Jerseyans voted by a 3-1 margin on Election Day to amend the state Constitution to clear the way for such an Internet directory.

Both bills aim to challenge or circumvent court decisions that have restricted the ability of state lawmakers to address those issues.

In August, the state Supreme Court relied on the state Constitution to strike down a parental notification law signed by Gov. Christie Whitman last year. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld abortion laws similar to New Jersey's, the state Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey's Constitution gives girls here broader rights than the U.S. Constitution.

Collins and his co-sponsor, Assemblyman John E. Rooney, R-Northvale, believe the court overreached. They want to put a question on the ballot next November that would enable voters to amend the state Constitution to provide for a parental notification requirement.

Opponents contend the amendment is so broad it could lead to laws requiring parents to be told when a minor seeks testing or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease or drug abuse. They say the parental notification requirement will discourage many minors from seeking counseling or an abortion until later in the pregnancy when the procedure is riskier and may send some girls underground for unprofessional, unsafe abortions.

"Because of the Supreme Court ruling, there are those who believe the Constitution should be turned upside down," said Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, an opponent. "This amendment will allow this Legislature or a future Legislature to create an atmosphere where young people don't go for AIDS testing and don't go for drug counseling."

But Rooney said the bill reflects the will of most New Jersey parents.

"Polls show that 80 percent of the public is in favor of requiring consent -- not just notification -- before a minor child has an abortion or other medical procedure," Rooney said.

The amendment would go on the November 2001 ballot if the bill is approved by a three-fifths majority in both the Assembly and the Senate. If the bill gets less support, it still could make the ballot by being approved by straight majorities in both houses two years in a row. Collins will move the bill before the end of the year so the second option remains open, said spokesman Chuck Leitgeb.

"We're not taking anything for granted," he said.

Weinberg said she expects "a majority" of the 33 Democrats in the Assembly will vote against the bill or abstain. The Assembly has 80 members.

The Weingarten bill to establish a sex offender directory on the Internet was drafted by Whitman's staff and has her support, said spokeswoman Jayne O'Connor.

The bill is controversial because such a directory appears to run afoul of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the state Supreme Court and the federal courts that have ruled on New Jersey's community notification law. Those courts have narrowly restricted who should receive information about sex offenders.

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 Internet a directory of sex offenders in Tennessee, he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately rule on the issue.

Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Hamilton, who sponsored the state Megan's Law, said Weingarten's bill may be a good "starting point" but needs to be carefully reviewed.

"I think we have to take a look at it and make sure what we develop as implementing legislation is the strongest it can be and can withstand the inevitable challenges," he said. "I'm in the interest of full disclosure and protecting our communities, but I don't think you can make it so all-encompassing that the law itself becomes flawed."

The Assembly also plans to vote on a bill that would prohibit police agencies from setting quotas that dictate the number of arrests or traffic tickets that are expected of officers.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway, D-Burlington City, was held in the Assembly last month because of concern it would conflict with sections of a federal court decree aimed at eliminating racial profiling.

The bill was amended at that time to clarify that agencies may use information about numbers of arrests or citations to evaluate officers -- provided it is not the sole criterion for a decision -- and to ensure officers are not violating legal obligations.

"I think it will engender public confidence by ensuring the decisions made roadside will be based not on a need to fill a quota but solely on a transgression on the roadway," said Conaway.

Source: New Jersey Online, by Peter Aseltine.