LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - The chairman of the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee expects to introduce legislation the week of Feb. 21 that would revamp the state's sex offender registry, allowing users to more easily identify predators on the list.
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said a Target 8 investigation into the registry should provide traction for change.
"Your stories bring this to a head," Jones said after viewing the Target 8 investigation, which aired Tuesday and Wednesday. "They alert everybody that there's a difference on people that are on the current list."
The investigation raised questions about whether the registry, with more than 42,000 names on it, is serving its purpose -- to protect the public from potentially dangerous predators.
The list paints offenders with the same brush, making it difficult to pick out predators from those who pose no real threat.
Among those who shouldn't be on the list, Jones said, is Rick McQuillin. He was 17 when he had consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl who was not legally old enough to consent -- a "Romeo-Juliet" case that put him on the list for 25 years, kept him out of the military and cost him jobs. It also will keep him from after-school activities for his two young sons.
"If it was consensual, under our legislation, it's considered Romeo-Juliet," Jones said. "They will not be on the list."
Jones said his office recently started working on legislation to radically change the list. It would divide offenders into three tiers.
"Tier Three will be the dangerous predators," Jones said.
It also would keep those "Romeo-Juliet" offenders, such as McQuillin, from the list altogether -- as long as the victim is older than 13 and the suspect is no more than four years older.
"This should have been taken care of a long time ago," Jones said.
It's difficult to say how many Romeo-Juliet cases would qualify. State police in the past have said as many as 200 such cases were on the list. In one Grand Rapids zip code alone, 49503, Target 8 found at least three cases, but only McQuillin's case would appear to qualify. In the other cases, the offenders were more than four years older than the victim.
"Certainly, the way the list is set up right now, you check on somebody, you don't know if they're a child molester; you don't know if they had Romeo-Juliet," Jones said.
The legislation is required by the federal government to comply with the Adam Walsh Act , which is meant to make sex offender lists uniform across the country.
After four years and two extensions, there's a sense of urgency in Lansing, with an April 1 deadline to get this done, or lose more than $1 million in federal law enforcement funds.
Jones said politics -- the state House and Senate each controlled by opposing parties -- have kept lawmakers from agreeing on change. Now, they are controlled by Republicans.
"We want a system that's fair and accurate, and we're probably not tough enough on serious predators," Jones said. "This law will make it a lot tougher on the serious predator.
"This will be done. That's my commitment to the citizens of Michigan. We're going to get rid of Romeo-Juliet cases. We're going to make sure we have a sex offender list that is meaningful."
If the law passes, Rick McQuillin, who is now 29, could petition a judge to erase him from the list.
"I wouldn't have to register anymore. I might be able to go to my kids'functions; I don't know if that's a possibility, but that'd be awesome."
Jones said he hopes to introduce the bill in time for a Senate Judiciary hearing on Feb. 23 -- the first step. If it passes, the state faces another deadline - July 27 -- to get its new sex offender list up and running.
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