COLUMBUS - An Ohio legislative panel yesterday rubber-stamped an unprecedented process that would allow sex offenders to be publicly identified and tracked even if they've never been charged with a crime.
No one in attendance voiced opposition to rules submitted by Attorney General Jim Petro's office to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, consisting of members of the Ohio House and Senate.
The committee's decision not to interfere with the rules puts Ohio in a position to become the first state to test a "civil registry."
The concept was offered by Roman Catholic bishops as an alternative to opening a one-time window for the filing of civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse that occurred as long as 35 years ago.
A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.
The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.
The person's name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.
A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person's name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.
The attorney general's office said it continues to hold discussions with a group representing day care operators about one of the rules pertaining to what such facilities would do with information they might receive pertaining to someone on the registry if that person is living nearby.