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general assembly

Critics pan new sex offender bill

– A bill rewriting a recently overturned Indiana law banning sex offenders from social networking sites is just the same tiger wearing new stripes, legal experts said Wednesday.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago last week overturned a federal judge’s decision upholding the 2008 law, saying the state was justified in trying to protect children but that the “blanket ban” was too broad.

Two Republican senators introduced the rewritten ban earlier in the legislative session, but it has been merged into a separate bill.

The bill’s backers believe their changes should satisfy the court. But critics say the new version is still unconstitutional because it would virtually ban offenders from using social media, even if they don’t try to directly contact children and their past crimes had nothing to do with the Internet.

“It applies to any site that a person knowingly uses and knows that minors are allowed access,” said Ruthann Robson, a professor of constitutional law at the City University of New York. She said that would completely ban sex offenders from using Facebook, since kids also are allowed to access it.

But legislators backing the bill said they believe the rewritten proposal falls within the guidelines set by the appellate court ruling.

A bill filed this year by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, would ban Class A felony child molesters and sex offenders convicted of child solicitation from sites such as Facebook. Merritt said he believed tailoring the bill to apply to the “worst we have” would be narrow enough to satisfy the court.

“We make it illegal to commit robbery or murder with a gun, but we also have laws that make it illegal for a felon to possess a gun,” Merritt said Wednesday. “We do not want to give these convicted sex offenders the same tools to re-offend.”

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said he advised legislators that the proposal still needed work. He said most of the changes in the proposal shorten the list of offenders who would be banned, rather than narrowing free speech restrictions.

Specialty plates limit goes too far

House Transportation Chairman Ed Soliday delayed action on his proposal to limit the number of specialty license plates on the road after receiving an amendment Wednesday that he said would unfairly bar numerous groups from the program.

Soliday’s proposal would create an eight-member bipartisan panel to review requests from nonprofit groups and universities for specialty plates. The Valparaiso Republican says state roads are crowded with so many different plates that it’s difficult for police to identify vehicles.

But he pushed back a hearing indefinitely after a lawmaker, whom Soliday would not identify, sought to bar groups that engage in political activities or were previously rejected by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles from qualifying for specialty plates.

“It said once you were rejected, you could never have another plate. And that’s not the way we work in America,” he said.