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Bill barring sex offenders from visiting nursing homes lacks support

March 12, 2009 – Legislation that would have banned registered sex offenders in Illinois from visiting nursing homes has been tabled. Rep. William Black (R-Danville), the bill’s sponsor, said there was simply not enough support for the bill.

California, Oklahoma and Virginia already have laws in place limiting registered sex offenders from living or working in nursing homes. West Virginia is considering legislation that would require special arrangements be made for boarding registered sex offenders in nursing homes.

And Maryland recently introduced a bill that would prohibit registered sex offenders from knowingly coming onto nursing home grounds without a formal waiver – similar to the legislation proposed in Illinois by Black.
One of Black’s constituents inspired the bill, he said. The representative said the man, a nursing home staffer, came to him troubled by the fact that a registered sex offender was visiting his mother at the same nursing home where his own mother worked.
“If I had a parent in a nursing home, I wouldn’t want a sex offender visiting the nursing home,” said Wendy Chill, director of advocacy and communications at the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention, which was neutral on the bill.
“In theory, yeah it [the bill] sounds like a great idea, but there’s theory and there’s reality,” said Chill. She said enforceability of the bill would be an issue, and so did Black.
“They [sex offenders] just don’t wear a scarlet letter on their forehead,” said Black. Nursing home visitors are currently not subject to criminal background checks, a sticking point for the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Police.
A 2005 Sun-Times investigation found that 100 registered sex offenders were living in Illinois nursing homes. The report did not include sex offenders visiting nursing homes.
Bob Sherman from the Long-Term Care Bureau of the Illinois Department of Public Health said Illinois nursing homes must follow the Illinois Identified Offender and the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, but neither of those laws, said Sherman, require criminal background checks of nursing home visitors.
“You would have to literally do a background check on everyone,” said Sherman. According to the current laws, Illinois nursing homes are only required to conduct criminal background checks on their workers.
Lt. Scott Compton, spokesman for the Illinois State Police, said the department didn’t have a position on Black’s legislation, saying he didn’t know how nursing homes would be able to keep track of visitors who were sex offenders. And, said Compton, a registered sex offender could easily use an alias.
The bill’s sponsor said in speaking to nursing home administrators and state police officers, he found that of all the concerns people have about sex offenders, “being in a nursing home is not on their list.”
The trend, said Black, was that it was nursing home workers, not visitors, who were more likely to sexually offend nursing home residents.
But, said Black, if the nursing home industry finds out in the coming months that there is an issue with visitors sexually assaulting nursing home residents, the bill could come up again.
“The support for this at this time just isn’t there,” he said.
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