Trenton Musings: Jessica Lunsford Act Stalled

December 9th, 2011

Many of you are familiar by now with the story of Jessica Lunsford. At eight years old, she was abducted in the middle of a Saturday night from her grandmother’s trailer, where she was staying in order to go to Sunday school the next morning. Her kidnapper repeatedly raped her, then bound her in speaker wire and buried her alive in a plastic bag. The searchers did not find her in time, and she died underground, still clutching her favorite stuffed animal.

The most outrageous part of little Jessica’s death is that it could have been prevented. Her murderer was a repeat sex offender who had been released early on good behavior. This knowledge transformed Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, from a truck driver into an indefatigable lobbyist. He sought to put repeat sex offenders across the nation behind bars for a minimum of twenty-five years, so that other parents could be spared his pain.

Forty-four states have passed the Jessica Lunsford Act, and in New Jersey its current Assembly sponsors total 54. That’s 68 percent of the Assembly. This legislation is truly bipartisan, and it ought to be a shoo-in. In the last legislative session, however, it was stifled in committee.

At NJFPC, we thought this lame duck session of the legislature would afford us an opportunity to push this law, putting repeat sex offenders behind bars for anywhere from twenty-five years to life. But here’s what has transpired.

- The chairwoman of the appropriations committee, Nellie Pou, denied ever having received the amendments we worked on and had approved for the Jessica Lunsford Act. The Council’s Greg Quinlan showed her a photocopy of the cover sheet of our fax, proving that he sent them to her in September.

- The public is supposed to be given seventy-two hours’ notice before a bill is heard. Yesterday in Trenton, the appropriations committee suspended the rules to hear three unscheduled bills without notice, including a bill to move school board elections to November and a controversial forestry bill that allows New Jersey to harvest its own state forests for increased revenue.

- With three legislative days left this year and a total of five scheduled for this legislative assembly, it is clear that Ms. Pou has no intention of letting this bill go to the floor for a vote before the legislature closes on January 9. If she did, it would pass in a heartbeat.

Quinlan, the Council’s Director of Government Affairs, said, “I cannot understand how people in the New Jersey legislature can refuse to put criminals who rape children behind bars.” Mr. Quinlan anticipates that this bill will cost the state very little, since repeat sex offenders are, we hope, few and far between—but in any case they are exactly the kind of people that we should be putting in jail.

Short of a miracle, this bill will not pass. For this reason we are asking all of our friends and supporters to call the office of Assemblywoman Pou and ask her to vote on this bill in appropriations and release it to the floor of the legislature. If you get the answering machine, please leave a message; if you get a busy signal, hang up and try again. Again, the message is simple: vote and release. The phone number for Assemblywoman Pou’s office is (973) 247-1555. Then please join us in praying that this legislation, which we have been working on for four years, will finally become law.

There is one piece of good news. Caylee’s Law, which was drafted in response to Casey Anthony’s infamous murder of her own daughter and requires people to report a missing child within twenty-four hours, has passed Assembly and will likely come before the Senate next Thursday.