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Proposed bill would prohibit certain sex offenders from working closely with children

Law professor believes it could create enforcement nightmares
Ohio Statehouse
Posted at 5:56 PM, Oct 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-04 19:52:38-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is proposed legislation in Columbus to keep certain registered sex offenders from working closely with children. But exactly what kind of jobs would that cover?

News 5 Investigator Tara Morgan first reported Monday that two registered sex offenders were fired from a haunted house after a former co-worker raised a red flag.

RELATED: Woman quits haunted house job in Columbia Station over registered sex offender co-workers

Right now, Ohio law doesn’t prohibit registered sex offenders from working with children, but that doesn’t mean they can.

"Quite frankly, nobody wants the liability if something were to happen of having employed that person, so they're not going to get these jobs in the first place,” said Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Mike Benza.

There are processes already in place to prevent it.

"Your status as a registered offender is going to come up in any routine background check,” Benza said.

Morgan uncovered background checks did not happen at the Spooky Ranch haunted house in Columbia Station, but the owners confirmed to News 5 they will now do background checks in the future.

A woman who worked there says she quit after feeling uncomfortable with a habitual sex offender, who is registered in Lorain County, as her co-worker.

"If they are going to have a place where children are going to be in the dark around people who are in costume and makeup, they should do background checks,” said Kim Neubauer.

State Representative Al Cutrona says Ohio is too lax on the issue.

He’s proposed a bill to prohibit Tier II or Tier III sex offenders from working alone with children.

Cutrona started work on HB 459, he said, after discovering a snack shop in his district was run by two high-level sex offenders.

"The statute is very particular, it's not that you are employed by a company or agency that has contact with juveniles or with minors, but that the individual position is a position in which you would have extensive and unaccompanied conduct or supervision of a child or a minor,” said Benza.

Benza points to vague language in the bill that leads to more questions about how it could work, for example, in a candy store or haunted house setting.

"I don't know whether this statute actually would address the issue of somebody who was hired at a haunted house because they may not have either the exclusive control or unaccompanied control over a minor,” said Benza.

The bill would also require a detailed description of the job role and a signed statement by their employer as part of the sex offender registry.

Benza thinks the bill could create enforcement nightmares.

“How does an employer make a decision that they do in fact want to hire this person in spite of their record without running afoul of this statute? How do prosecutors investigate these and make these decisions?” Benza said.

HB 459 was introduced in October 2021 and was referred to the criminal justice committee. So far, only two hearings have been held on the bill with the latest in May of this year.

Watch Tara Morgan's report from Monday on the haunted house that employed two registered sex offenders:

Woman quits haunted house job in Columbia Station over sex offender co-workers

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