By Rebecca Henely
Astoria’s state legislators have drafted and have made significant strides in passing a bill that they said would close a gap in a law punishing repeat sex offenders.
Under the current laws, sex offenders who strike multiple times within 10 years are classified as persistent sexual offenders. This means they are subject to harsher punishments on repeat offenses, but any time the offender spends in prison is counted within this decade-long span.
The new bill, sponsored by state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), would exclude prison time.
“It’s very important because we need to close a loophole for persistent sexual offenders,” Simotas said.
The assemblywoman said she became aware of the issue while reviewing the penal code in her position on the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Simotas talked to various assistant district attorneys and found this was a problem for them.
“Sometimes first drafts of the laws aren’t perfect,” Simotas said, “and it’s our job as legislators to make the laws become more effective.”
She said the bill is modeled after other sections of the penal code that deal with consistent felons.
“This bill gives prosecutors and law enforcers an extra tool,” Simotas said.
The bill is working its way through the Assembly, although the Senate passed a version of the bill sponsored by Gianaris last week.
“We should have zero tolerance for sex offenders period, let alone repeat sex offenders,” Gianaris said.
Both Astoria legislators said the law had pertinence to the neighborhood in the wake of reported sexual offenses that have taken place in the area. At a news conference in November, Simotas announced the bill amid a series of measures aimed at curtailing crime in the neighborhood.
While no specific crime inspired this bill, some incidents they mentioned at the news conference included an attempted rape on 21st Street, a groper who attacked a 9-year-old girl at the Astoria library on 31st Street and multiple reports of women being groped in the district.
“All of which are unacceptable,” Simotas said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.