Friday, February 17, 2006

E-mail Could Alert You To Nearby Sex Predator

LANSING, US -- Have any convicted sex offenders moved to your neighborhood lately?

You could sign up for automatic e-mails alerting you to such moves, under legislation that headed toward final approval Wednesday.

The free e-mail service would be available through the Michigan Sex Offender Registry beginning in January 2007. The revised Web site also will allow searches for specific offenders without their approximate age -- a requirement that now makes searches more difficult.

The state House approved the e-mail notification Wednesday on a 94-12 vote. If the Senate agrees to a minor change, the bill will go to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who said she would sign it.

The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond, said the e-mail alerts would make the sex offender registry more convenient. He said Ohio uses similar alerts.

"I've got three kids, one still at home, and I don't peruse the State Police sex-offender list all the time," Sanborn said Wednesday. "But I do check my e-mail. It's nice if you get the alert."

Sanborn said he lives in a rural area where children go to homes selling merchandise for school fund-raisers or for such activities as Girl Scouts. "There's a lot of practical reasons to know there's a house you don't want your kids to go to," he said.

Margaret George, 40, of Sterling Heights said she keeps track of registered offenders in her community. She approved of the proposed e-mail alerts, but said that not everyone would benefit because many homes don't have a computer.

"I think it is a good idea, but we have to go farther because there are a lot of laws set, and they need to get stricter and stop letting" sex offenders "out of jail," George said.

Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi, D-Farmington Hills, was one of 12 House members who opposed Sanborn's bill. He said the sex-offender registry list could incorrectly list people not convicted of sex crimes.

"It's got to be 100% correct," Vagnozzi said. "I don't think we should subject anyone to being targeted and then find out they didn't do anything."

Willowbei Eversole, 59, of Huntington Woods said the sex-offender list should not include adolescents who are convicted of minor sex offenses, such as consensual sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Eversole, who has three grown stepchildren, said names of younger offenders should be removed from the list after a few years.

Under the law, the names of people convicted of designated sex felonies and misdemeanors go on the list for 25 years. The list went on the Internet in 1999.

"I think there ought to be some kind of grading system for the age of the offender," Eversole said. "Society has just gone overboard, in my opinion, with trying to make things right. They err too far on the side of infringing on people's liberties who may have made a mistake when they were young."

It's not known yet whether the e-mail alerts will include the names of sex offenders that are new to the list, or merely link subscribers to the registry Web site, where they can scan their ZIP code for new names.

State Police spokeswoman Shanon Akans said the e-mails are only part of a revised State Police Web site that will be easier to use. She said the e-mail alerts would not require more employees.

Contact CHRIS CHRISTOFF at 517-372-8660 or Staff writers Chastity Pratt and Stan Donaldson contributed to this report.

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