By Katie Lannan
BOSTON - The names and addresses of Level 2 sex offenders would be added to a public online database under a legislative measure its supporters say gives parents the tools they need to protect their children.
Currently, only Level 3 offenders, those determined to be at the highest risk of re-offending, are part of the public Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry.
"We're allowing citizens to empower themselves, and that's really what this is about," said state Rep. Jim Arciero. "It's really gratifying to know that this is something that's going to help the public. This is going to help families assess their own situations."
Arciero, a Westford Democrat, pitched sex-offender information reforms for the first time in 2009, getting a little bit closer to fruition each year, he said. A final 2014 budget approved by the House and Senate on Monday included an amendment adding Level 2 offenders to the database.
In Massachusetts, information about Level 1 sex offenders is only available to law-enforcement agencies. For information on Level 2 offenders, residents can file an in-person information request with their local police department.
It's a process Arciero says is cumbersome and ties up the resources of police departments. Both the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the State Police backed Arciero's bill.
Putting Level 2 offenders online will be "a big step forward," said victim advocate Laurie Myers, who supported Arciero's efforts and fought to put Level 3 offenders online in 2004.
- Next they will be pushing to add level 1 offenders to the registry, wait and see.
"It's just another tool for people to use to keep their kids safe," said Myers, a Chelmsford resident and founder of the victim-advocacy group Community VOICES. "I'm all about awareness. We say to be aware of your surroundings, but then on the other hand, we've restricted the information for years."
The finalized budget hit Gov. Deval Patrick's desk on Monday, giving him 10 days to sign or veto the legislation.
Related amendments also call for greater information sharing between the Sex Offender Registry and law-enforcement agencies, and seek to make easier the reclassification of offenders to different levels.
The budget provisions push the state closer to compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. Under that policy, states that post all sex-offender information online are eligible for grant funding.
Massachusetts stands to earn up to $600,000 by becoming fully compliant, money that Arciero said would be put toward the costs of implementing the new requirements.
Arciero is also the sponsor of a bill, now before the judiciary committee, that would post information on Level 1 offenders as well.
- What did I tell you?
Level 1 offenders are those classified by the commonwealth's Sex Offender Registry Board as least likely to re-offend, while Level 2 offenders are considered to pose a moderate risk.
"Right now it's a judgment call by the Sex Offender Registry Board, a judgment call if an offender is going to re-offend," Arciero said. "What I've said all along is that with this legislation, we're allowing families to make their judgment call."
Arciero began his push to increase public access to sex-offender information when a young girl was sexually assaulted in his Westford neighborhood in 2009. After neighbors learned the attacker's name, a quick Internet search revealed his information in a Florida offender database, Arciero said.
"It really shed a light on a huge loophole in Massachusetts, where folks didn't have the information available to protect our families and keep our neighborhood safe," he said.
Myers said she's heard similar stories from parents whose children were victimized by Level 2 offenders they didn't even know lived nearby.
"Red flags kept going off, and these parents thought they were doing everything right," she said. "They went on the registry thinking the most dangerous offenders were there. They come to find out the damage had already been done, and their children had already been victimized. People want this information, and now they'll have it."