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Sex Offenders Face More Restrictions Under New Law

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike Easley targets North Carolina's 10,000 registered sex offenders, including nearly 1,000 in the Triangle.

Lawmakers joined Easley as he made a once experimental Global Positioning System tracking program mandatory for violent sex offenders. Other highlights of the new law include prohibiting registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or day care. They must also check in with authorities in person twice a year instead of annually.

In 2004, WRAL covered a Greensboro pilot program where probation officers tracked sex offenders. If a convicted child predator walked near a hot zone, like a school or day care, authorities were notified.

"It's not just that you track them," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. "It's that they know they're being tracked. And I think that may put a barrier on the impulse they may have to go after a child."

The Department of Motor Vehicles will search the National Sex Offender Registry before issuing a driver's license. If a person is listed as a sex offender in another state or on the national registry, they will be required to properly fulfill state sex offender registration requirements prior to receiving a driver's license or ID card.

People convicted of statutory rape of a 13-, 14- or 15-year old have been added to the category of sexually violent offenders. Another provision of the law creates three new felonies related to human trafficking.

Also, anyone who harbors or helps offenders violate registration would face a felony charge. Finally, violent offenders will stay on the registry for life, instead of a 10-year period.

The goal of the new mandates is to keep a closer eye on sex offenders.

"Child predators are about the meanest people you've ever met in the court system," said Easley, a former prosecutor.

"I think it's something that was needed," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. "I think those people need to be tracked."

Harrison said he's already doing personal checks, even though state law only required a mail-in confirmation. He doesn't think the tougher restrictions will add too many headaches for officers.

"Maybe a couple of things," he said. "We'll have to do a little more paperwork, but I don't mind doing that. We want to protect citizens of this county."

In addition to the new law, state Attorney General Roy Cooper plans to implement yet another warning system for parents. In the coming months, the online registry will offer e-mail notification and maps when sex offenders move.

Parts of the law, including the development of forms, creation of studies and bids for GPS contracts. took effect immediately. Other provisions, including the revised definition of statutory rape, most of the sex offender registration changes and changes in the definition of sexual contact will go into effect on Dec. 1. The requirement for sex offenders to enroll in a GPS program becomes mandatory on Jan. 1, 2007.

North Carolina isn't alone in its toughening laws, but every state takes a different strategy. Ohio already has a residence distance limit to schools. Now, lawmakers are working on stiffer penalties for those who ignore the law. Sex offenders living too close could face six to 12 months in prison or a fine.

In Maryland, authorities are struggling to keep up with sweeping and immediate changes to its laws. This month, lawmakers increased how often registered offenders must physically check in, and also passed stricter mandated sentences. Police departments have reportedly faced increased workloads and staff shortages.

Early this month, Massachusetts's lawmakers followed the GPS trend. Level Two and Three offenders must now be tracked. Also, sexual abuse victims now have 27 years to report a crime instead of 15.


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