By STEVE PRISAMENT
GALLOWAY – A state Senate vote on the Jessica Lunsford Act has been scheduled for Thursday, March 27, according to the District 9 delegation, which has cosponsored the legislation in both state houses.
The vote is the final legislative hurdle for the bill to be sent to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk for approval. It was passed 77-0 Thursday, March 20, by the state Assembly.
That same day it was passed by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, clearing it for this week’s floor vote.
Galloway resident Anna Jezycki said she is hopeful for the act to become law.
“This has been going on for so many years,” Jezycki said. “It would be one of the best things that ever happened for New Jersey.”
For the past dozen or so years, Jezycki has been the leader of CUFFS, Community United for Family Safety, which she started with some neighbors when they learned of a sex offender living near a school bus stop.
“This is long overdue,” Jezycki said. “It’s been a long time coming and will be well accepted by the people.”
She said she expects that if Gov. Christie considers whether to sign the bill, the governor will remember receiving thousands of letters from CUFFS a few years ago during a previous attempt at sex-offender legislation.
The District 9 senator and Assembly members who represent Galloway and Port Republic in Atlantic County and coastal communities to the north have been pushing for the legislation for a while based – in part – on input from Galloway residents.
“For nearly a decade, our delegation has cosponsored and consistently advocated in favor of enacting the Jessica Lunsford Act, here in New Jersey, just as at least 25 other states have done,” Sen. Christopher J. Connors told The Current Monday, March 24. “Mandatory sentencing would serve the interest of public safety, as sexual predators who prey upon children would be incarcerated for longer periods of time as opposed to being released onto the streets.”
The act, which is named after a Florida girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a convicted sex offender, requires mandatory terms for persons convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13. Sentences would range between 25 years and life imprisonment, with 25 years having to be served before parole eligibility.
Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf said victims’ interests would be better served.
“The courts would be enabled under the law to mandate that sexual predators serve sentences befitting of the heinous nature of their crimes,” Rumpf said. “For these and other compelling reasons, there is tremendous support for the Jessica Lunsford Act among concerned parents, grandparents, community groups and local public officials, including in our legislative district, who remain actively engaged in the effort to strengthen the state’s sexual offender laws.”
Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove cited strong support from two major forces.
“It is extremely important to note that this legislation is supported by Mark Lunsford (Video, Child Porn), Jessica’s father, who has worked tireless for Jessica’s Law to be enacted by every state so that a conviction of a sexual assault committed against a child in the first degree carries with it a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years,” Gove said. “Critical to the continued advancement of this legislation is that both the Senate and Assembly versions of the Jessica Lunsford Act have strong bipartisan support from representatives across the state.”
The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed its version of the act, A-892 (PDF), Feb. 24. The Judiciary Committee was the only committee to hear A-892 before it moved to its unanimous Assembly approval March 20.
In the Senate, it required approval from two committees to reach this week’s vote. The Law and Public Safety Committee approved S-215 (PDF) Jan. 30 and the Budget and Appropriations Committee OK’d it March 13.
The 9th District delegation has established an online petition drive in support of the Jessica Lunsford Act as well as other sex offender legislation that residents can sign.
Connors, Rumpf and Gove are also prime sponsors of legislation that would require a sexual offender to be tiered – rated on the risk for re-offense – prior to his release from prison.
Currently, the ability of an offender to obtain housing following release is a determined by his tiering level.