Massachusetts Legislators Propose Allowing Limited Public Access To Level 1 Sex Offender Information

Legislators from around the state are proposing new legislation in the wake of the arrest of a Level 1 offender on multiple charges of child molestation.

State lawmakers from both political parties are lining up behind a bill to allow limited public access to information on Level 1 sex offenders and give the state Sex Offender Registry Board new power to update risk levels assigned to such convicts.

The proposed changes are driven by the case of John Burbine, a Wakefield man and Level 1 sex offender who was charged late last year with sexually abusing more than a dozen children at his wife’s unlicensed daycare business.

“What happened recently at an unlicensed day care in Wakefield was horrific and caused us to ask ourselves if there is more the law can do to protect the most innocent among us,” said Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich.

A reform bill introduced by Sen. Katherine Clark, Senate chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and Rep. Paul Brodeur, both D-Melrose, has garnered support from 27 bipartisan cosponsors, and leaders of both the House and Senate have said amending the state’s Sex Offender Registry is a top priority this legislative session.

Ehrlich, while not a cosponsor of the bill, has thoroughly reviewed its contents and supports it.

“The bill seeks to protect children by closing some loopholes in the law,” explained Ehrlich. “Specifically, it strengthens our system of oversight of convicted sex offenders and ensures that citizens, local law enforcement and relevant state agencies have the information they need to do all they can to keep our kids safe.”

She believes the bill, with its strong bipartisan support, would further help accomplish that goal because it has been crafted “effectively, fairly and responsibly.”

If the bill becomes law, people could ask police if a specific person is listed on the Sex Offender Registry and obtain information about Level 1 offenders’ classification and conviction. According to Clark, the changes would allow people to check before hiring a babysitter or caregiver to see if the applicant is a sex offender.

“The worst feeling in the world as a parent is that you can’t protect your children,” she said.

Right now, no information on Level 1 offenders, such as Burbine, is publicly available.

Clark wants to allow limited public access to information on Level 1 offenders, whom the Sex Offender Registry Board has deemed to present the lowest risk of reoffending under the state’s three-tiered classification system.

Currently, if a civilian were to suspect that someone was a Level 1 offender and inquired about that person to the Marblehead Police Department, police would not, under state law, be able to hand that information over, according to Marblehead Police Department Chief Robert Picariello

“The department follows the law, and the law only allows us to disseminate information on Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders,” explained Picariello. “So we follow what the law says and guidelines set forth by the Sex Offender Registry Board.”

While not offering up an opinion on the bill, Picariello said, “The more information we can give people to make them feel safe, the better.”

Clark’s potential legislation would also establish the presumption that any sex offender convicted of a crime involving a child should be classified at least at Level 2, unless he or she can present evidence otherwise.

Her proposed bill would also address a court decision that stopped the Sex Offender Registry Board from reclassifying sex offenders based on new information. While the board had done this in the past, a 2012 court ruling, John Doe vs. Sex Offender Registry Board, established that state law does not give it the authority to do so.

Proposed legislation would explicitly spell out that the board does indeed have the power to reclassify.

“If we have information that the person is a greater threat or, for that matter, a lesser threat, then [the board] ought to be able to take into account,” Clark said. “Otherwise, we’ve frozen the system at a moment in time that may not be accurate.”

Parts of the bill seek to open up lines of communication among police, prosecutors and the Sex Offender Registry Board to share new information on offenders. Clark said she wants to give agencies responsible for child safety direct access to the Sex Offender Registry.

“I’m all for [lawmakers] looking at it and seeing if we can make people feel more safe, especially if this law would allow me and the department to make Marblehead safer,” said Picariello. “But, at this time, we comply with the [current] law.”

After a May 7 hearing on the proposed bill, Clark said the judiciary committee would likely take a few weeks to decide what action to recommend to the full Legislature.

Meanwhile, Ehrlich has already made up her mind on the bill, saying, “If it comes to the floor, I will be happy to vote for it.”

Expanding the dissemination of information of Massachusetts Level 1 and 2 sex offenders would be devastating for many registered offenders. It would vastly expand the number of Massachusetts sex offenders whose home, work, and educational information would be available on the Internet or to the public and will reduce the utility of the site run by the Sex Offender Registry Board, which presently only lists the highest risk Massachusetts Level 3 sex offenders.

If you are a Level 1 or 2 sex offender in Massachusetts and have questions regarding your Massachusetts sex offender classification or wants assistance in reviewing or seeking sex offender reclassification, you need a Boston sex offender attorney. Please contact Attorney Crouch at (617) 441-5111 or email him to set up a free, initial consultation. To request further information please contact us.