It seems the only opposition to a proposed California law that would protect children working in Hollywood from sex offenders comes from a little-known group advocating for sex offenders’ rights.
Managers, photographers, acting coaches and other professionals in the entertainment industry that represent minors would be required to prove they’re not registered sex offenders under the law. It’s similar to existing regulations for talent agents and studio teachers in show business, although these groups must pass more extensive background checks. Anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 people working in Hollywood would have to get cleared by the state if the bill becomes law, according to an analysis by the state Assembly.
“We need this protection because there are things you would do with your child in this industry that you wouldn’t do anywhere else,” said Paula Dorn, co-founder of BizParentz Foundation, an advocacy group for child actors. “Parents are not unnerved by a stranger talking to their child after a play, because they think they’re getting scouted. But in normal life, if someone walked up to your child at a park, you’d be like, ‘Wait a second.’”
Yet there’s one organization daring to publicly defend the interests of more than 93,000 individuals on California’s sex crime registry, arguing the bill unfairly treats people convicted of public urination and streaking the same as rapists and violent assailants.
“There are individuals on the registry whose offense occurred more than 50 years ago and there are many people whose offenses had nothing to do with children,” said Janice Bellucci, president of the group California Reform Sex Offenders Laws. “It’s just too broad.”
Bellucci wrote a letter to Assemblywoman Nora Campos, the bill’s sponsor, arguing that the bill should be tailored to ban only people convicted of a sexual crime against a child younger than 14.
That line of reasoning has had little impact on widespread support for the bill. An Assembly aide told HuffPost there’s been no other opposition, while industry groups like the Screen Actors Guild and the Motion Picture Association of America penned letters supporting the legislation.
Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, criticized the opposition, saying the bill fits in with the body of laws designed to protect children.
“Background checks are almost universal with anyone who works with children, from camp counselors to teachers to nurses,” he said. “It’s a surprise that [the bill] is even needed.”
Unlike in 2006, when a similar anti-predator bill passed in the Assembly but died in the Senate, a spate of pedophile scandals in the last year makes it more likely that this legislation will be enacted, according to Dorn.
The memory of the arrests late last year of manager Marty Weiss on child molestation charges and “Super 8″ casting director Jason Murphy for failing to register as a sex offender gave the bill a sense of urgency. Former child stars Corey Feldman and Todd Bridges have also recently spoken out about experiences being abused by Hollywood insiders.
These cases and others helped propel the bill through the Assembly, where it passed May 30 in a unanimous vote, 74-0.
“[The] vote demonstrates that the protection of children is a non-partisan issue,” said Campos in a statement. “The purpose of this bill is simply to ensure that any person who works directly with a child performer is not a registerred sex offender or any threat to the safety and welfare of a minor.”
The bill must now snake through committees in the Senate before holding a vote.
Bellucci still hopes to derail it or get it modified. At least one-third of the people on California’s registry were convicted of a crime in which they didn’t come into physical contact with anyone, she claimed.
While some of the offenders on the list might have been charged with indecent exposure for peeing in public, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office told HuffPost it’s unlikely these were harmless bathroom breaks. Indecent exposure becomes a more serious sex crime if authorities say the suspect had lewd intent.
It’s difficult to find allies when the cause is sticking up for some of society’s most ostracized criminals, but Bellucci hopes to loosen the restrictions for non-violent offenders.
“People think that everybody who is on the [registry] is the same,” she said. “They think everyone is a monster.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated when the bill passed the Assembly. It was passed on May 30.