Local lawmakers told the Boston-area media Wednesday morning that they have filed comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the ways information about sex offenders is shared between law enforcement, state agencies, and the public.
The legislation was motivated by the charges against John and Marian Burbine, both of Wakefield. John Burbine is facing nearly 100 charges involving the sexual abuse of young children from the Melrose area, 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 - and with that classification level was able to avoid detection even when a local mother tried to check into his background when her child was going to the former Waterfall Education Center in Wakefield.
On Wednesday, State Senator Katherine Clark and State Rep. Paul Brodeur, both of whom represent Wakefield, joined Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith in a conference call to discuss the legislation. State Rep. Donald Wong, whose district also includes part of Wakefield, is also among the sponsors. Several days before, the local lawmakers released the full details of their bill, which would allow sex offenders to be reclassified at a higher level under certain circumstances, and which also give the public access to information about Level 1 offenders. Clark also discussed some legislative ideas with Wakefield Patch in a separate interview soon after the Burbine case broke.
Chief Smith told Wakefield Patch back in the previously mentioned article that the same day, he had contacted local lawmakers requesting action on sex offender registration. This week, he emphasized to local media 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, adding that "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."
"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 earlier in the news conference, recalling the frustration she had heard from constituents who found they were unable to get information about whether somebody was a level 1 offender.
During the call, Clark explained that the legislation is needed in part 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. "We are still respecting that we have different levels of classification," she added.
"Ultimately, what we want to do is create good information that under certain circumstances, the public can get at," said Brodeur.
Looking ahead, Clark reported that "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 offered earlier this month by Senate Republicans. Along with the general bipartisan ship 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 the year. As soon as the latest committee assignments are announced, Clark also reported that she will begin to aggressively seek a hearing date for the legislation.