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State House Approves Amendment to Sex Offenders Bill

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RALEIGH — Most people are in favor of knowing whether a child molester lives in their neighborhood, but what happens if theabuser is another child?

The North Carolina House approved an amendment to the sexoffenders bill Wednesday which would make public the names of children whoabuse.

The bill itself creates a public registry of violent sex offenders inevery county. It will bring North Carolina into compliance with thefederal Megan's Law, a task that must be done by September.

Currently, the law only applies to adults and juveniles who are triedas adults, but the amendment will add all juveniles to the process.Some lawmakers say the state is setting itself up for a challenge in courtif the amendment passes.

The new amendment means that a judge can put the name of a sex offender asyoung as 7 years old on a county-wide public registry. Wayne Countyrepresentative Carolyn Russell (R) says the offenses addressed in theamendment are offenses that are heinous in nature. She believes therewill be very few children in the state that a judge will allow to be puton such a registry.

Not everyone agrees with the legislation. Some say it isunconstitutional because it violates the juvenile code of confidentiality.Others say it is unethical because child sex offenders are usually abusedthemselves. Richmond County representative Wayne Godwin (D) is concernedthe registry will mark such children for life.

A child in Debbie Neuhart's family was sexually abused by a neighbor. She likes the amendment, but would rather see the bill pass without itthan not at all. Neuhart says she hopes the list will be available. It'swhat she and many people have been pushing for.

The big concern with the session winding down is that this bill will bestalled. If the state does not come into compliance with federal law bySeptember, it could lose almost $1,300,000 dollars in federal funds.The bill now goes back to the Senate for it's approval on the new amendmentwhere is looks like there will be more debate.

The bill, signed Wednesday by Governor Hunt, allows the state to hireand train more child protection workers. It also allows the state tointervene in counties with a bad track record of handling these cases.

Finally it switches the state's emphasis from family reunification tosafety, even if it means removing the child from the family.

Photographer:Ron PittmanandKerrieHudzinski