Victim's families lobby NJ lawmakers to create tougher penalties for child sexual assaults
Stop Child Predators President Stacie Rumenap was joined by Mark Lunsford, Rosemarie D'Alessandro and other victims, child advocates and activists in New Jersey in March to meet with lawmakers and local media in an effort to urge lawmakers to pass "Jessica's Law," a bill named after nine-year old Jessica Lunsford who was brutally raped and murdered in Florida in 2005 by a twice convicted sex offender.
The measure, named after Mark's daugther, would impose mandatory 25-year prison sentences on anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under 13. It also calls for three-year sentences for anyone caught harboring a sex offender. The effort is being spearheaded by Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Senators Diane Allen and Tom Kean. Over 60 legislators, including Speaker of the Assembly Sheila Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, have signed onto different measures to enact the bill which was first introduced in the New Jersey legislature in 2005.
Senator Allen says the bill is much more likely to be successful this year. "It just is amazing to me that we haven't passed this law. Our children are not as safe as the children in most other states," Allen told the press at a recent news conference organized by the New Jersey Family Policy Council, a key ally in the effort to pass Jessica's Law. "I worry if we don't get it done this year, how many children are we going to lose? I don't know but even one is too many," Allen said.
Rosemarie D'Alessandro, whose 7-year-old daughter, Joan, was raped and slain in 1973 by a Hillsdale neighbor, also spoke in favor of the measure.
"You want these (sex offenders) in prison, and that's where they should stay. . We don't want any more Jessicas and no more Joans," said D'Alessandro.
Supporters of the measure, including "Nixzmary Brown Soldiers" braved the snow to meet with lawmakers to encourage them to pass tougher penalties for child sexual assault. Rose Lapsley-Morrisroe founded Nixzmary Brown's Soldiers to push for better child protection laws in the wake of the brutal death of the 7-year-old namesake at the hands of her mother and step-father in New York in 2006.
Assemblywoman Nellie Poe, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, is sympathetic to victims who asked for her support. "Of course the heartfelt thoughts of Mr. Lunsford and other parents will most certainly be remembered as legislative consideration of this bill continues," she said.
Jessica's Law passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and awaits approval by the Apropriations Committee before going to a vote on the Assembly floor and moving to the state Senate. The bill would require the signature of Govenor Chris Christie in order to become law. Governor Christie has signaled he supports the legislation.
Forty-four states have passed Jessica's Law. But the fact that New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Idaho, Colorado and Hawaii have not baffles supporters who are determined to return to Trenton to add New Jersey to the win column.