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Editorial: A chance to get sex offender laws right

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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When the 19-year-old son of Tonia Maloney of Downstate Fairview Heights had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, he was forced to register as a sex offender. He was a legal adult and she was a minor.

Police told his employer to fire him, and when he found a job in a new town, the police there ran him off, too.

Being on the sex registry in Illinois makes it hard to find a place to live, hard to find a job, hard to fulfill family responsibilities and hard to be a productive citizen. Even Bears games, forest preserves and the lakefront are off limits.

We can think of plenty of cases where that’s just fine by us. Nobody wants a dangerous sex offender living next door or lurking in the woods. But our state’s sex offender laws are remarkably vague and broad — as Tonia Maloney’s son can tell you — and should be overhauled to keep the public safe without being unnecessarily punitive.

A bill on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk would create a task force to examine how Illinois’ sex offender laws could be improved. The governor ought to sign it. Separately, five convicted sex offenders have filed a lawsuit alleging the current law is unconstitutional because it is too vague. We don’t know how the lawsuit will turn out, but the task force should ensure the rules are clear.

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In 2011, Amanda Agan, a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton, found sex-offense arrest rates don’t change after registries are put in place, recidivism is no lower in state’s with sex registries and the rates of sex offenses are not affected by the number of registered offenders living in a particular area.

Too often, lawmakers have rushed through legislation aimed at sex offenders without carefully researching whether the laws will have their intended effect. Creating the task force would give them a chance to remedy that.

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