Tougher offender law urged
Rep. Earl Pomeroy said Friday he hopes a bill establishing a national sex offender registry will pass early this year.
Called Dru's Law after Dru Sjodin, the legislation has hit a snag because of what Pomeroy, D-N.D., calls a "dysfunction that plagues Congress."
Lawmakers disagree on an amendment regarding hate crimes that was added to the Children's Safety Act, which includes Dru's Law, Pomeroy said.
Pomeroy hopes lawmakers will agree on a new version of the Children's Safety Act the first quarter of this year.
The congressman and Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick spoke at the First Friday Forum on sex offender legislation. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
League member Lois Ivers Altenburg said sex offender legislation is an important discussion topic, especially after high-profile sex offenders Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. and Joseph Duncan III made headlines locally.
Rodriguez is accused of abducting the22-year-old Sjodin in November 2003 from a mall parking lot in Grand Forks, N.D. Her body was found the following April near Crookston, Minn.
Altenburg said her five grandchildren lived half a block from Duncan before he was arrested in Idaho. Duncan is charged with killing several members of a family so he could abduct and sexually assault two young children.
Fargo police did a good job of monitoring Duncan and informing people of his status as a sex offender, Altenburg said.
"We've all gotten to know the terms Level 1, Level 2, Level 3," she said, referring to the risk levels assigned to sex offenders.
The Children's Safety Act calls for harsher penalties and increased supervision for certain sex offenders, particularly those who victimize children.
Pomeroy said a sex offender's right to privacy should give way to the public's right to know about sexual predators living in the community.
Nationally, 550,000 sex offenders of all risk levels live in communities, but the whereabouts of 100,000 of them are unknown, Pomeroy said.
Burdick said crimes involving predators who lure minors by computer are some of the most frightening.
"People think they have someone who's a friend, someone they have gotten to know," Burdick said. "Frankly, they have no idea who that person is."
Cheryl Bergian, president of the Red River Valley chapter of the League of Women Voters, said she is concerned about sex offenders who are driven to homelessness or unemployment because of sex offender registration.
Without stability, the sex offenders may be more likely to re-offend, she said.
Stephanie Holland, a North Dakota State University student, attended the forum because she's researching sex offender legislation for her master's thesis.
Holland said lawmakers need to remember that agencies need money and support to enforce the laws and provide more supervision of sex offenders.
The next First Friday Forum is at noon Feb. 3 at the Sons of Norway, 722 2nd Ave. N., Fargo. The topic is Medicare Part D - The Prescription Drug Benefit. It is open to the public.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590