House committee passes bill for online sex offender registry

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(Host) By a vote of 10-to-1, the House Judiciary Committee has given its approval to legislation that creates an Internet registry for dangerous sex offenders. The bill also calls for a one-year delay to a plan to make most other court records available online.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The committee’s action is a step to strengthen Vermont’s existing laws concerning community notification of convicted sex offenders. Under the plan, sex offenders who are identified by law enforcement officials as presenting a serious risk to the public will have their names and photographs included on an Internet registry.

While some groups argue that the Internet registry will create a false sense of security for members of the public, House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Peg Flory thinks the proposal will have a positive benefit:

(Flory) “It provides some measure for the public to check out who their children are hanging around with, who their babysitter might be, who their teenage child’s new boyfriend or girlfriend might be. It gives some mechanism that if you’re a little uncomfortable, that something is bothering you about somebody’s behavior, you could at least check to see if they’re on the registry.”

(Kinzel) The committee also decided that a plan to post most court records on the Internet needs a lot more study. Currently these records are available to the public at county courthouses and some officials believe that they should be available to the public on line.

Flory is worried that unproven allegations and charges that are included in the court records could be misused by some people:

(Flory) “Sadly I don’t think the allegations are ever to the public proven to be false. They’re not proven to be true and that’s a big difference. A lot of people will assume that just because the allegation was made there’s some basis for truth to that allegation. And the fact that the person was not ultimately convicted does not necessarily reassure them that the allegations were false.”

(Kinzel) Backers of the legislation are hoping to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote by the end of next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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