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Bill Would Make It Easier to Get Information About Local Sex Offenders

In wake of the John Burbine case, local lawmakers propose changes to the way sex offenders are registered.

 

If a new bill becomes law, you will be able to go to your local police station to find out who are the convicted sex offenders who live in your area. 

The legislation would not only make additional information on Level 1 sex offenders available to the public, but also would automatically classify anyone convicted of a sex offense against a child as a Level 2 offender.

The legislation comes in response to charges against John and Marian Burbine, both of Wakefield. John Burbine is facing 100 charges involving the sexual abuse of young children, while his wife is charged with multiple counts stemming from the illegal day care she operated.

John Burbine was classified as a Level 1 sex offender after a 1989 case involving several young children. With that classification level, he was able to avoid detection even when a Wakefield mother tried to check into his background when her child was going to the former Waterfall Education Center in Wakefield.

At least one of his alleged victims is from Waltham.

The bill, if passed, would allow sex offenders to be reclassified at a higher level under certain circumstances and give the public access to information about Level 1 offenders. Currently, detailed information, including home and work addresses as well as photographs, are available only for Level 3 offenders.

Under the legislation, information for Level 2 offenders would only be available through an in-person request, according to a press release about the bill. 

In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that detailed information for Level 3 offenders can be published online, but details about offenders at less-serious levels cannot be published online. The information must be retrieved in-person from local police.

The bill would also have anybody convicted of offenses against children automatically be labeled a Level 2 offender. Offenders would have the right to appeal their classification, according to the press release.

Also, the bill would also allow anybody convicted of possession of child pornography to be labeled as a sex offender, according to the press release. 

Lastly, the bill, if passed, would make the licensing history of any childcare facility available to the public, according to the press release. The Burbines' childcare company was not licensed.

State Sen. Katherine Clark and State Rep. Paul Brodeur, both of whom represent Wakefield, are sponsoring the bill along with State Rep. Donald Wong.

NEED FOR REFORM

Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith previously told Wakefield Patch he had contacted lawmakers requesting action on sex offender registration.

Smith, this week, said that the current proposals focus on Level 1 offenders "who really should be looked at for whatever reason," but also with a regard for individuals' rights.

"Our goal is to enhance the system and make it better and hopefully protect children who can't protect themselves," said Smith. "We're trying to add components that will make it easier for the public to access information but also be very, very cognizant of the rights of others." 

Clark believes the bill will help further protect the public.

"This will be helpful to the public in allowing them to look up someone they might be thinking of hiring as a babysitter or caretaker for elderly parents," said Clark during a conference call. 

The legislation is needed, Clark said, partly because a state court case last summer found that existing laws do not actually provide for the reclassification of sex offenders in Massachusetts without a specific criminal conviction. Rep. Brodeur later clarified that this court case was not decided on constitutional grounds, but on the legislative interpretation of the current law.

"Ultimately, what we want to do is create good information that under certain circumstances, the public can get at," said Brodeur.

Looking ahead, Clark said, "I am so pleased with the support of so many colleagues who reached out to us [on this legislation]."

The bill is largely consistent with a separate bill filed earlier this month by Massachusetts state Senate Republicans. Along with the general bipartisanship on this issue so far, Clark also noted that State Senate President Therese Murray has indicated the issue will be among her legislative priorities for 2013. 

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