Local News

State House Approves Amendment to Sex Offenders Bill

Posted August 13, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

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

The North Carolina House approved an amendment to the sex offenders bill Wednesday which would make public the names of children who abuse.

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

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

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

Not everyone agrees with the legislation. Some say it is unconstitutional because it violates the juvenile code of confidentiality. Others say it is unethical because child sex offenders are usually abused themselves. Richmond County representative Wayne Godwin (D) is concerned the 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 it than not at all. Neuhart says she hopes the list will be available. It's what she and many people have been pushing for.

The big concern with the session winding down is that this bill will be stalled. If the state does not come into compliance with federal law by September, 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 amendment where is looks like there will be more debate.

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

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

Photographer:Ron Pittman andKerrie Hudzinski