Ward’s bill could bring more stringent sex offender laws

Published 2:34 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A bill sponsored by an Alabaster legislator recently passed the Alabama Senate, and could close several loopholes in the state’s sex offender laws.

Alabama Senate Bill 296, which was sponsored by state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, passed the state Senate May 5, and likely will be one of the first bills brought up by the Alabama House of Representatives when it returns to session, Ward said.

If passed by both houses, the bill would require sex offenders in the state to adhere to more stringent registration and notification standards.

“It is of vital importance that we keep our families and neighborhoods safe,” Ward said. “This bill will help to protect our children by enabling us to better know where sex offenders are in Alabama.”

Ward said the bill will close a “number of loopholes” in the state’s current sex offender reporting laws.

Ward said under the state’s current sex offender laws, a sex offender with no permanent residence “almost never had to register” with the state.

“This bill will say that even if you are considered homeless, you are still going to have to check in with local law enforcement,” Ward said, noting the bill will require homeless offenders to register weekly until they establish a fixed residence.

Ward said the current law could lead to a scenario in which a sex offender could end up living in the same residence as their victim.

The new law would prohibit a sex offender from “establishing a residence with a minor if the offender’s sibling was his or her victim or if the sex offender was convicted of a crime involving force against a minor.”

“This loophole in the current law needed to be closed. This law provides greater protection for siblings of abused children, as well as improving the notification requirements,” Ward said.

The new law also will give Alabama residents more ways to search for sex offenders in their areas. When sex offenders register, they will be required to report more information, which will allow law enforcement officials to provide more information to citizens who conduct sex offender searches in their cities.

“The new law will require (sex offender) reporting that the state didn’t require before,” Ward said. “If you want to search a field, or if a person wants to search for sex offenders in their neighborhood, the information will be much more searchable.

“Right now, sex offenders are only required to report a nominal amount of information,” Ward added.

Ward said the current law gives sex offenders a relatively large amount of time to notify authorities if they change residences or move to another county.

“Under the new law, if you move to a new county, you are going to tell us that you are moving,” Ward said.