AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is forming a subcommittee to tackle more than 20 sex offender bills.

Many of them deal with revamping the sex offender registry – deciding who should go both on the registry and who should be on the Web site, and where an offender can or cannot live.

After a series of public hearings on bills Monday, the committee discussed how to proceed. It said it does not want all residency restrictions to apply to all sex offenders – the way most of the bills are written.

The big unknown for the committee is how the federal Adam Walsh Act to make stricter laws on sex offender registration will affect Maine. While state officials won’t know for sure until next year, “we have an issue with sex offender registration that requires attention sooner than that,” said Bill Diamond, D-Windham and Senate chairman of the committee.

Legislators need to look at the sex offender issues as a whole “in order to wrap our arms around it,” said Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, House chairman of the committee.

The committee needs to also take input from bipartisan study organizations such as the Council on State Governments, whose members took an in-depth look at the issue.

“Risk assessment is a very big issue,” Gerzofsky said. “Not everyone is high risk.”

Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, the House Majority Whip, agreed that many people on the registry shouldn’t be. He is not a member of the committee, but presented a bill to refocus the sex offender Web site on the most dangerous offenders.

Faircloth, an assistant professor of justice studies at University College of Bangor in the off-season, sat on the Committee to Prevent Sexual Abuse in 2005. He also used to be an assistant attorney general, and both prosecuted and defended sex offenders during his career as an attorney.

“If they’ve served their time and kept their record clean for a quarter of a century, what are we doing?” he asked the committee.

He referred to the registry as a “bureaucratic time bomb.” The determination of whether someone should stay on the registry should be done on a case by case basis.

In general, Faircloth said he opposes residency restrictions. They may keep a sex offender from living next door, but “nothing stops a pervert from coming in from across town,” he said.

Child safe zones would be more effective, he said. There are two bills to establish areas where sex offenders cannot loiter.

Faircloth is leading an effort to provide “early intervention” to those who are most at risk – young boys who have mental illnesses or a history of abuse. While not many of them will become sex offenders, Faircloth said, it is a better use of resources than “following some old-geezer around” who hasn’t committed a crime in 60 years.

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