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Senator Pamela A. Helming (R,C,I-Canandaigua) announced two bills she sponsors passed the Senate earlier this week, as part of a package of legislation intended to safeguard children and families against abuse and exploitation. Specifically, Helming's bills aim to increase protections for victims and employees at domestic violence shelters and to strengthen penalties for failing to register as a sex offender.

"These shelters are supposed to serve as a safe haven for individuals and families who are victims of domestic violence, which is why we need to make crimes against these individuals seeking shelter more serious. However, in order to protect these individuals, we also need to ensure that the employees of these shelters are safe as well," Helming said. "We've seen in the past that those seeking shelter have not been the only ones at risk. There have been instances in domestic violence cases where the abuser cannot get to the victim and will instead attack an employee of a shelter as way to send a message. By making it assault in the second degree, we are sending a message to the perpetrators that we will not tolerate further harm on our victims nor the employees of these shelters."

Current law provides added protections to various types of employees, including police officers, firefighters and medical personnel, as well as employees of local social service districts who are directly involved in abuse and neglect investigations. Helming's legislation, S. 4311, would provide expanded protections to employees of domestic violence shelters or those seeking their services by strengthening penalties to assault in the second degree for assaults committed at shelters.

The Senate also passed Helming's bill, S. 3030, that would increase penalties for failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registry Act to a class D felony. Currently, the penalty for failing to register or verify with the Sex Offender Registry is a class E felony for a first offense and a class D felony for a second or subsequent offense.

"Sex offenders are among the most heinous individuals in our society, and when convicted, they need to be held accountable for their actions. The sex offender registry was put in place so we can keep track of these individuals in an effort to better protect our children and families," Helming said. "However, if they are not registering, then the registry is not serving its intended purpose. That is why we want to deter individuals from choosing not to register, and the only way to do that is by further criminalizing their actions."

These bills will now be sent to the Assembly.