AUGUSTA — Parental outrage that a registered sex offender has been taking photographs of their children shopping in Augusta and posting the photographs online has prompted proposed legislation by a state legislator that would make it illegal for such offenders to take photographs of children without permission.

Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, sponsor of the bill, said he introduced the legislation after hearing from upset constituents. The registered sex offender, whom the Kennebec Journal is not naming because he has not been charged with a crime, was visiting local stores to take candid photographs of local shoppers, most of them young girls, without their parents’ knowledge or consent and posting those photographs on social media sites including Flickr, a photo-sharing site.

Augusta police said last week they investigated the complaints and determined no crime had occurred, as people are allowed to take photographs of other people in public places.

“While the community was rightfully outraged, law enforcement was unable to act, as the perpetrator wasn’t actually breaking any laws,” Pouliot said by email Tuesday. “I hope we can all agree that we should act upon this legislation as quickly as possible before more families fall victim to this sort of criminal behavior.”

The proposed bill would make it a class D crime for anyone required to register as a sex offender to photograph a minor intentionally without the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian.

Class D crimes are punishable by up to one year in prison and/or fines of up to $2,000.

Pouliot said some people have expressed concern that the proposal could infringe on people’s constitutional rights, but he said those concerns can be addressed when the legislation is heard in committee and work sessions are held. The bill would not have any effect on the ability of people not on the sex offender registry to take photographs in public, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine did not react to the proposed legislation Tuesday, with an ACLU official saying the group’s advocacy director, who monitors state legislation, was not available and could not comment on a bill until seeing it.

The bill was submitted after the deadline for proposals to be considered this legislative session. As such, it would require the approval of the Legislative Council for the bill to be taken up this session, and the council is scheduled to discuss the bill when it meets Thursday afternoon. The bipartisan council meets in public, Pouliot said, but is not expected to take comment from the public Thursday.

Pouliot said the bill was not brought up until after the deadline because the issue had not been brought to the public’s attention until recently.

He said council members he has spoken to about it have expressed support and he thinks it is likely the council will approve the bill to be taken up this session.

He said if it’s not, he would seek to bring it back up in a future session of the Legislature.

The man who appears to have taken and posted the photographs in Augusta was convicted of three counts of gross sexual assault, involving a victim younger than 14, in 2006 in Portland Superior Court, according to the state sex offender registry.

Augusta police Lt. Kevin Lully said police had received several calls reporting the man taking photographs of young girls in local stores, but they said doing so is not against the law.

However, he said parents can call police if they see someone suspicious taking photographs of their children or behaving inappropriately, so the police can respond to the situation and evaluate whether a crime is taking place.

The site where the photographs were posted has since taken down the page where they were located.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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