Proposed Louisiana law seeks to further erode privacy of sex-offender registrants
The Louisiana State Senate on May 24 passed House Bill 1146, which aims to give the public access to email addresses and online screen names of registered sex offenders. House members passed it earlier in May.
The impetus behind the bill, which won unanimous approval of both chambers with support of Democrats and Republicans alike, is unclear. State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who sponsored the legislation, has told The (Baton Rouge) Advocate that the bill is aimed at helping parents keep their children away from sex offenders when they play video games or participate in other online activities.
The bill seeks to allow “limited disclosure” of the information to those who request it as a way of identifying and monitoring registered sex offenders. However, the proposed law, which awaits Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signature, doesn’t allow the information-seekers access to the actual names of the sex offenders associated with the email addresses and online screen names.
In other words, the Louisiana State Police, which keeps the registry, wouldn’t be able to provide names or other identifying information linked to a specific registered sex offender with the information that’s released.
The House voted 99-0 in support of the bill on May 4 with little discussion and the Senate followed on May 24 with a 37-0 vote.
There is concern among sex offender registrants who have contacted my law office that providing the public with access to the information will allow the information-seekers to flood email addresses – some of which are linked to employment accounts – with harassing messages.
Registrants already face enough legal and societal hurdles in trying to move past their mistakes, regardless of the relative seriousness of the crime for which they have been convicted. In addition to providing their names and addresses to the national sex-offender registry (which is available to the public, online, at no cost), they often face bias in their attempts to secure housing and jobs and discrimination in forming or maintaining professional and personal relationships.
“This will allow anyone, anywhere, to harass a registrant by email or fill his inbox with spam, viruses, and malware. If someone has a company or a school email address, that will be public as well,” one registrant said in notifying me about the proposed law.
Another proposal that has raised the eyebrows of registered offenders, House Bill 444, sought to add “private residences used as home schools” to the existing list of places where a registrant may not be closer than 1,000 feet. However, as of this writing, Louisiana lawmakers have taken no action on this bill in committee or otherwise.
The current legislative session is winding to a close, scheduled to end on June 6, and the state budget deficit is a higher priority than the feel-good bills aimed at making lawmakers appear tough on sex offenders and others suspected, accused or convicted of crimes.
But if passed, House Bill 444 would make it significantly harder for registrants to maintain housing.
“Because there is no public list of these home-school residences, and the list changes constantly, there is no way for a registrant or law enforcement to know where these exclusion zones exist. Should law enforcement try to keep current with these locations, it would cost them significant time and funding and divert them away from their other important duties,” the registrant said.