Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.
These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.
Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.
About the bill
In July, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deemed the current iteration of the state’s sexual offender registry law to be punishment, making it unconstitutional to impose retroactively.
The decision stemmed from a court case from Cumberland County where the defendant was convicted prior to the implementation of the new law, but not sentenced until after the new law was enacted.
The new iteration of the law, enacted in 2012, imposed lengthier sanctions on the defendant.
Cumberland County has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it is not successful, it could mean thousands of people on the registry will be removed, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
State Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin County, has introduced a bill he says is aimed at remedying the issues raised by the state Supreme Court.
House Bill 1952 would keep intact the current version of the state’s sexual offender registry for anyone whose offenses occurred after the law was enacted, and put back in place a previous version of the law for anyone whose offense occurred prior to the 2012 law.
Prior versions of the law have been deemed not to be punishment and have been upheld by the courts.
“To allow potentially dangerous sex offenders to escape registration, as the Muniz decision provides, does not move the commonwealth forward,” Marsico wrote in a co-sponsorship letter. “Indeed, the decision is a step backward in terms of the safety and security of the commonwealth’s citizens.”
The effectiveness of sexual offender registry laws have been called into question by many social scientists, including a study conducted by the New Jersey Department of Corrections. That study concluded its sexual offender registry law “showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses” and “has no effect on reducing the number of victims involved in sexual offenses.”
An analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel found fewer than 2 percent of all charged sexual offenses in Cumberland County between 2013 and 2016 were committed by people on the registry.