AUGUSTA — A bill sponsored by an Augusta state legislator that would outlaw registered sex offenders from photographing minors in public and posting those images online has cleared its first hurdle.

State Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, said the bill received unanimous approval from the Legislative Council to move forward. Pouliot, who introduced the emergency legislation last week, said it is currently in the Revisor’s Office and once finalized will go to the House chamber to be referred to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The bill was proposed in response to recent parental and community outrage over photographs of young girls being taken in public in Augusta without permission and posted online on social media sites by a registered sex offender. Pouliot said that while the text of the bill had yet to be fixed, it would make it a Class D crime, a misdemeanor, for a person required to register as a sex offender to intentionally photograph a minor without a parent or guardian’s consent.

The bill needed the council’s approval to move forward since it was introduced after the deadline for items to be considered in this legislative session.

“We are looking at ways to focus in on individuals who have a history of child abuse,” Pouliot said. He added, “We want to make sure the law would hold up if it’s challenged on constitutional grounds. In order to do that, we want to make sure it’s not overly broad.”

Police who investigated after parents told them about the incidents reported that no crime had occurred.

Pouliot said Monday that since the initial incident, he has learned that the problem is widespread and that he’s been contacted by a number of people outside his district.

“It’s not just an Augusta problem,” he said. “It’s something happening in their community too.”

Lorana Laliberte, of Sidney, attended the Legislative Council session Thursday with her daughter Ella Laliberte, 12. Lorana Laliberty said people had notified her that her daughter appeared among some of the photos that had been posted online.

She determined that the photos were taken — without her permission — while they were shopping at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Augusta on Jan. 14.

As a result, she and her stepdaughter, Branda Claire Chasse, started a Facebook group #timeforachange. The public group, which was founded about two weeks ago, had 271 members as of Monday afternoon.

“We really believe it is time for a change,” Lorana Laliberte said Monday. “Laws change, technology changes, society changes,” adding that she’s concerned registered sex offenders who complete probation have no restrictions.

“They can go to a public place and take thousands of photographs of young girls, and post them online where other pedophiles go and they exchange pictures,” she said.

Laliberte said that while seeing the photos of her daughter on the site disturbed her, “He did not physically touch my daughter, and for that I’m very grateful.”

She said the intent of the group is partially focused on the bill proposed by Pouliot.

“We just wanted to start a conversation saying we need more laws protecting our kids,” Laliberte said.

Laliberte said she found Pouliot “amazingly receptive” to their concerns. “It’s validating to have law enforcement and government officials hear our concerns as a community and as a parent and help us protect our children.”

Pouliot too said the situation shows “how social media and the internet in general provide an opportunity for both good and evil.”

He said social media “has provided a great opportunity for people to engage in the democratic process.”

Word of the registered sex offenders posts featuring children in stores and public areas in Augusta sent parents to see whether their children were among those appearing on a social media page. None of the photos featured nudity, and most were images of youth shopping and doing other everyday public activities.

Jeanette Chartier, of Gardiner, received a temporary protection from harassment order against the registered sex offender on Jan. 24 after she learned that photos of three of her four minor daughters — at several different public locations — were posted on line by him. The order, which bars him from contact with her children, is in place until a hearing scheduled Feb. 20 when a judge will decide whether it should last longer.

In the meantime, the man is prohibited from a number of things, including “engaging in the unauthorized dissemination of certain private images.”

In seeking the temporary order from August District Court at the Capital Judicial Center, Chartier wrote, that the man’s “deliberate and repetitive actions directed towards my children has caused (and will continue to cause without legal protection) severe emotional distress, necessitating significant modifications to their daily routines in an effort to avoid (him) in the community.”

She also said in the filing that she was denied assistance from Augusta Police when she tried to get them to stop the harassment.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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