Sex offender registration bill now law, quota still on calendar

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While one piece of legislation that originated with State Rep. Robert Lancia has been signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo, another hangs in limbo as the state budget impasse continues.

House Bill 5207, sponsored by Lancia (R, District 16), Reps. Charlene Lima and Robert Jacquard also of Cranston and Reps. Raymond Hull and Jared Nunes, sets guidelines on sex offender registration. Sex offenders must register with the shelter at which they are staying, and the shelter has to inform local authorities. Gov. Raimondo signed the bill into law on July 18.

Shelters that fail to adhere to the law face fines for the first two offenses and the third offense carries a $5,000 fine along with up to one year in prison.

“I was certainly pleased that got passed,” Lancia said. “We were advocating for that registration. The original bill had a tighter time restriction but understanding the dynamic we were more than happy to go with that time adjustment.

“The one that I’m really concerned about is my original bill that was passed [in early May].”

The legislation in question is House Bill 5159A, which would enact a sex offender quota of 10 percent of residents at state facilities. The corresponding Senate Bill 897, sponsored by Sens. Hanna Gallo and Frank Lombardi of Cranston, was scheduled on the House Consent Calendar just one day before the House was dismissed. The quota would take effect on Jan. 1.

The heart of the urgency in Lancia’s case is Harrington Hall. Harrington is known as a shelter of last resort and has consistently housed the largest number of sex offenders in the state. The number was around 35 a few months ago when Lancia submitted his original legislation and held forums at three elementary schools in the district.

Lancia said the plan was, once either bill was passed, to hold a summit for leaders from all sides to meet and discuss solutions for the overflow. He added that Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello added more than $800,000 into the budget to alleviate the issue. Speaker Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman confirmed that Tuesday, saying the original funding figure to Crossroads, which runs Harrington Hall, was only $250,000. Now, the figure stands at $1,050,000 in the budget.

Berman echoed the Speaker on Tuesday, saying that if the budget were resolved the House would reconvene in September to handle unfinished business. He said, however, that Crossroads believes it will have enough time to implement the quota even if the budget isn't passed until September.

“They do feel they have enough time to initiate the program," Berman said.

Sen. Lombardi said that if the impasse did last into the next session in January then the bill would be in obvious jeopardy, but he doesn’t foresee that happening. He said the Senate has to return within 90 days to address a nominee for the Superior Court, but he expects it to reconvene well before that.

“I suspect we will be back sooner than that,” Lombardi said. “I really do. The lines of communication are beginning to open up a little bit. It’s not a matter of it, it’s a matter of when.”

Lancia said, though, that if the budget continues to stall, he would entertain going to the Governor directly to see if an executive order would be possible.

He said that idea was spurred by a meeting with Gov. Lincoln Chafee during his administration, attended by Speaker Mattiello and Mayor Allan Fung among others. There was a “gentleman’s handshake” agreement that there would be no more than five sex offenders at Harrington Hall.

“Whether a bill gets signed into law or we don’t go back to session, something has to be done,” Lancia said. “I will be reaching out to the Governor and saying ‘Governor, you’re going to have to use your executive privilege to get this done.’”

Deputy Press Secretary Catherine Rolfe said Monday that Gov. Raimondo is not weighing an executive order currently and would consider the legislation if it were to pass.

“This legislation has yet to be passed,” Rolfe said. “If/when H5159A or S897 were to pass, as with all bills, the Governor would take time to review with her staff and decide final action.”

Calls to Sen. Gallo’s office were not returned.

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