New Bills Intended to Protect Teens from Megan’s Law and Internet Pitfalls

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When Megan’s Law was adopted in 1994 the purpose was to warn people of the potential dangers they may face from a convicted sex offender living in their immediate vicinity. Under the law, those convicted of certain sex crimes must enroll in a central registry which, in turn, would be made available over the internet. Those crimes which are subject to Megan’s Law requirements include sexual conduct that would damage the morals of a child, including sharing naked pictures of children.(1)

Sexting is the act of messaging nude photos of yourself to others via your smart phone. Under Megan’s Law even teenagers who engage in sexting could be required to register as sex offenders, a label that could stay with them for life. Technically, even a person taking a naked photo of him or herself can be charged with possession of child pornography if they are underage. A new bill passed by a State Assembly committee last month would protect teens from being branded as sex offenders as the result of an impetuous act.(2)

The new bill, which is up for full Assembly review, would amend Megan’s Law so that underage teens who send pictures of themselves to other minors would not be required to registry as sex offenders, although they would still be subject to charges of delinquency in family court. Maureen Kanka, mother of the slain seven-year-old for whom the law was named and proponent of Megan’s Law, was reported as being in favor of this amendment. The Law, she said, was intended to punish true sex offenders. Teens shouldn’t face a lifetime of punishment as registered sex offenders merely because of using poor judgment and sexting.(2)

The bill, which had gained unanimous approval of the State Senate earlier this year, contains other revisions that provide stiffer penalties for adult sex offenders and for those who fail to provide the required notifications when they move. Additionally, the bill calls for offenders to pay make a $30 monthly payment which would go toward hiring additional parole officers to help monitor these felons.(2)

A separate bill also designed to protect teens from their own impetuous behavior was

recently introduced for consideration by the State Senate. The bill would, in part, give minors who have regrets about something they posted online a chance to remove that post so as not to be haunted by its repercussions in the future. This bill, however, has met criticism with some pointing out that a number websites already let people remove content they have posted. A similar bill introduced nationally in 2011 failed, but there is talk that it may be reintroduced this year.(3)

(1) http://www.nj.gov/njsp/spoff/megans_law.html
(2) http://www.mycentraljersey.com/viewart/20131119/NJNEWS10/311190025/
(3) http://nj1015.com/websites-face-new-rules-with-new-bill-audio/