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One proponent of a bill in the Arizona legislature that would require sex offenders to notify their child’s school of their sex offender status says that a parent’s right to know trump’s that child’s right not to be ostracized or bullied.
The proposal, which was passed in the Senate 16-13, would require a registered sex offender who is the legal guardian of a student at a public or private school to provide annual notification of their sex offender status to the principal or administrator of that school within 10 days of the student’s enrollment.
Republican Sen. Janae Shamp, of Surprise, said during a House Judiciary Committee meeting March 8 that the idea for her Senate Bill 1253 was brought to her by someone in her district who was molested as a child and then saw her abuser on campus when she was going to check out a school for her own child.
“Why should he be allowed to be on campus?” Shamp asked.
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Law enforcement agencies are already required to notify the community, including schools in the area, when certain types of sex offenders move there, but those offenders might enroll their children in schools in other communities, Shamp said.
Patricia Borden of Arizonans for Rational Sex Offense Laws shared with the legislators a story about a girl who was ostracized and sexually harassed after her school shared the names of all guardians on the sex offender registry, including hers.
Charity Clark, a member of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and a defense attorney who specializes in defending people accused of sex crimes, told the committee that sex offenders already have to go through a long and arduous process to get custody of their kids. In her eyes, that means those offenders are already under intense scrutiny from the criminal justice system.
Clark said she believes that probation officers should have the discretion to decide whether to notify the school in some cases. She added that children of sex offenders have the same rights as other children to feel safe at their school.
Victoria Hudson, who testified during the hearing, said she was a child victim of sexual abuse by a family member. Hudson shared that there is bullying and shame when the child of a registered sex offender is exposed to their schoolmates and teachers.
“The children of those individuals will be harmed,” she said, adding that this bill aims to “protect children at the expense of children.”
She urged the legislators to focus on offenders who had not yet been caught instead of those already being monitored by the criminal justice system.
Scottsdale Republican Rep. Alexander Kolodin said while he understood the concerns about the children of sex offenders being bullied, he would not allow his child to play with the child of a sex offender, because the offender might be present.
“Honestly, it absolutely sucks for the children of those people that they’re going to be ostracized like that,” Kolodin said. “But my right as a parent comes first.”
Phoenix Democrat Rep. Analise Ortiz said she had too many questions to support the bill, but was supportive of an amendment having the Arizona Department of Public Safety notify the school about the offender’s status.
“I still have concerns about children being bullied and how schools would ensure protection of those children,” Ortiz said.
The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee 4-3, along party lines.
It goes next to the full House for consideration.
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