After disturbing allegations against Wakefield day-care provider John Burbine, who was charged last month with 100 counts of raping and abusing young children, Massachusetts lawmakers proposed legislation Wednesday meant to improve the state’s ability to protect the public from convicted sex offenders.
Senator Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, said she filed the multipronged bill to improve a regulatory system that apparently failed to protect children from Burbine, a Level 1 sex offender who had several run-ins with state agencies before the most recent charges emerged.
“We can do a better job of protecting the public and at the same time of creating a fair system of classification against offenders to allow them to rebuild their lives and move forward in a positive way,’’ Clark said.
The new legislation would ensure that the public could obtain information about Level 1 sex offenders by going to any police department in Massachusetts and asking. Currently, Level 1 sex offenders — those considered least likely to reoffend — are not required to register with police, and information about them is not accessible to the public.
The bill would require that all sex offenders convicted of charges involving children be designated as at least Level 2 offenders, considered to be at a moderate risk of reoffending. If offenders wish, they can contest their classification in a public hearing.
The bill would also allow the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board to reclassify offenders at the request of a district attorney or police department, or on its own initiative. It would also create better communication between the registry and other state agencies and law enforcement, Clark said.
Clark filed the legislation with the help of Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. and Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith. Representative Paul Brodeur, a Democrat from Melrose, and Representative Donald Wong, a Republican from Saugus, filed similar legislation in the House.
The bill comes a month after prosecutors alleged in Middlesex Superior Court that Burbine repeatedly abused 13 infants and toddlers over a two-year span beginning in 2010. He had looked after the children, mostly in their homes, through his wife’s unlicensed child-care service in Wakefield. Burbine pleaded not guilty.
“This bill ensures that families are able to make informed decisions about who they are entrusting the care of their loved ones to,” Brodeur said.
In 1989, Burbine was convicted of three counts of indecent assault and battery of a child and designated as a Level 1 sex offender, court records show. Burbine’s new alleged victims and their families would have had no way to know about his sex offender status.
Later, the Department of Children and Families investigated and substantiated sexual abuse allegations against him in 2005 and 2009 related to two young children he watched, court records show. The department referred its concerns to the Middlesex district attorney’s office, which did not bring charges. Prosecutors said last month that families of the two alleged victims, ages 5 and 7, declined to provide the cooperation needed to secure convictions. Therefore, the information remained confidential until charges were filed.
Some child advocates praised the legislation, but said it was too little and too late.
Laurie Myers — founder of Voices, a nonprofit child victim advocacy organization based in Chelmsford — said lawmakers should make information on all sex offenders available on the Internet. “Senator Clark’s bill touches on some of the failures that allowed 13 innocent children to be victimized, but putting a Band-Aid on the issue does little to stop the hemorrhaging,” she said.
Wendy Murphy, a professor of sexual violence law at New England Law, Boston, said she wished the bill included provisions to hold prosecutors accountable. Murphy, a former prosecutor, believes prosecutors were partly to blame in the Burbine case for not charging him in 2005 and 2009. She said lawmakers could require prosecutors to put in writing why they decline to prosecute in such cases.