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New law approved

GASTONIA – Children must be protected.

That’s the message sent by Governor Mike Easley on Monday when he signed into law the bill termed as &uot;The Jessica Lunsford Act,&uot; so named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

Jessica, a Gaston County native, was raped and murdered in Florida in 2005 by a convicted sex offender.

Since that time, her father, Mark Lunsford, has lobbied legislative bodies in states across the country to get harsher punishments for those convicted of sexual offenses against children.

North Carolina is now the 43rd state to pass some version of the bill, which requires judges to sentence child sexual offenders to a minimum of 25 years and up to life in prison.

Furthermore, after offenders are released they will be monitored by Global Positioning System satellites for life.

The bill only applies to adult offenders who commit certain sex crimes against children under the age of 13.

It received overwhelming bipartisan support in the North Carolina legislative body, passing unanimously in the Senate (46-0) and with only one dissenter in the House (109-1).

District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that the new law will help ensure that sexual offenders will not be able to re-offend.

&uot;When convicted sexual offenders receive a mandatory 25-year sentence, day for day, to life without parole, that punishment certainly sends out the message to these predators that these actions against our children will not be tolerated in North Carolina,&uot; she stated.

Asbell continued, &uot;These defendants will spend the majority, if not their entire life, behind bars.&uot;

She added, &uot;Although the harsher punishment will not bring back the innocence of a victim or cure the mental anguish suffered by victims of sexual abuse, I hope it will give the victim and the victim’s families some comfort knowing that a person receiving a 25-year sentence will not be able to hurt another child behind prison bars.&uot;

After Easley’s signature, the law will go into effect on December 1.

&uot;Today we send a message that North Carolina will protect our children from vicious predators,&uot; Easley stated.

He continued, &uot;We will make sure they spend more time in prison and we will track them 24-7 to make sure they never abuse children again.&uot;

The bill also amends the sex offender registration requirements to be more stringent, requires community notification regarding the presence of a sexually violent predator or repeat sex offender and amends the law regarding bail for violations of probation and post-release supervision.

Furthermore, it creates a new criminal offense that makes it unlawful for a sex offender to be on certain premises (such as schools, playgrounds and child care centers) and requires sex offender registry checks of school contractual personnel before allowing them to have direct interaction with students.