By Rebecca Henely
City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) proposed last week that the state enact a law to bar sex offenders from the children’s section of public libraries.
“This problem is real, and it’s happening where parents trust their kids will be safe,” de Blasio said in a statement. “A children’s reading room should be off limits for a sexual predator — just like a playground.”
Vallone said a resolution he is planning to introduce calls upon the state Legislature to ban sex offenders from going into a children’s section. The hoped-for legislative measure would be an extension of similar bans on offenders entering schools or school playgrounds.
“The law already exists, we’re just making it broader,” he said.
Vallone said he and de Blasio had been searching for ways to keep children in libraries safe after two girls — one 6 years old, the other 9 — were inappropriately touched — in the Flushing branch of the Queens Library, at 41-17 Main St., last month. Police charged Brooklyn resident Joel Grubert, 48, a registered sex offender, with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child in the incident.
A 7-year-old girl also reported being inappropriately touched by a man at the Queens Library’s Steinway branch, at 21-45 31st St. in Astoria, last year. There have been no arrests in that incident as of the TimesLedger’s Tuesday afternoon press time.
The officials wrote a letter to state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) July 9 urging them to consider their proposal.
Previous attempts to create laws barring sex offenders entirely from libraries have not been struck down by the courts, like an Albuquerque, N.M., ban that was rejected by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year as an infringement on the offenders’ First Amendment rights. Vallone said he expected this ban to be narrow enough to be acceptable.
“I think specifically including children’s areas of libraries should pass constitutional muster,” he said.
Vallone said while no law will completely stop offenders who prey on children, it will give police offers another tool to protect them.
“It’s very hard to deter pedophiles,” he said. “They have the worst recidivism rate out of every type criminal.”
Queens Library President and CEO Thomas Galante released a statement in support of the legislation.
“It is essential that our children feel comfortable in visiting public libraries for assistance with schoolwork and lifelong learning,” he said. “We thank our legislators for doing all they can to preserve a secure environment for them.”
Vallone said he and de Blasio are also working on finding state legislators who will sponsor a bill.
The councilman allocated money to have security cameras installed in the Steinway Library and the Astoria Library, at 14-01 Astoria Blvd., in response to the incident last year.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.