AUGUSTA — An amended version of a bill prompted by concerns about a convicted sex offender taking photographs of children shopping in Augusta was endorsed Monday by the state Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in a unanimous “ought to pass” vote.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, was amended in order to satisfy concerns raised about its constitutionality and must pass a full vote of the Legislature. It now requires sex offenders to be warned not to take photographs of other peoples’ children, before doing so would be considered illegal. It was also amended to apply only to sex offenders who have been convicted of a sexual assault, or sexual exploitation, of a child younger than 14.

The bill would thus make it illegal for sex offenders who have been convicted of sexual assault or sexual exploitation of a child under 14 years old to photograph any child under 14 if the offender has been warned not to do so by a law enforcement, corrections or judicial officer.

The initial bill would have applied to anyone required to register as a sex offender, and did not require sex offenders to be warned first, before taking photographs of others’ children would have been illegal.

“The attorneys in the room decided this amended version would hold up to constitutional scrutiny, if it’s challenged in court,” Pouliot said. “We wanted to make sure we were not just passing a paper tiger, that it would hold up if challenged under constitutional grounds. It’s taking the gray area out of existing law.”

Lorana Laliberte, of Sidney, a leader of a Facebook group “#timeforachange,” formed by parents in response to the incidents and to advocate for laws protecting children, said the amended bill will help and is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go as far as they’d hoped in protecting children.

She said the group favored a previously discussed proposal that would have made the ban on photographing children apply to sex offenders convicted of substantive sexual offenses against anyone under the age of 18. She also said sex offenders needing to be warned first, before photographing other people’s children would be illegal, is “not our favorite part of the bill.”

“To need to be given a written warning, after they’ve already been convicted of a crime, is a little frustrating to us,” Laliberte said. “But we’ll continue to advocate. We’ve been so well-received by lawmakers, and we’re happy to see the support we got from the committee in passing the law with the amendments. We understand why they did it this way. So it will pass and go through and hold up in court.”

Pouliot said at least if a sex offender who meets the standards of the bill is seen taking photographs of children, and warned not to do so, it would stop the behavior. That, he said, is the goal.

“If a warning is given, they have to stop the behavior,” he said. “If they did it again, they’d be committing a crime, and go to jail. Either way, it stops the behavior.”

The bill, L.D. 1813 was prompted by numerous local parents expressing outrage that an Augusta man, who is on the sex offender registry due to three 2006 convictions of gross sexual assault of a child under 14, took hundreds of photographs of people out shopping in stores in Augusta, most of them appearing to be teenage, or younger, girls. The man then posted the photographs, in which the subjects were clothed and in public, to social media and photo-sharing websites.

Parents reported that activity to police in Augusta. Augusta police said they investigated the complaints and but determined that it appeared no crime had taken place.

Laliberte said the need for the bill was brought to her attention when she found 46 photographs of her 12-year-old daughter posted online, taken without her knowledge allegedly by the Augusta man on the sex offender registry, including one she said he used as his profile picture on YouTube. She said the photographs included comments under them that made her ill.

The Kennebec Journal is not naming the man because he has not been charged with a crime in connection to the photographs.

Pouliot said the bill could go to the full House and Senate for votes as soon as this week, though next week is more likely, then the legislation would need to be signed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Laliberte said the group of Maine parents that formed in response to the issue will likely continue to advocate, in the state Legislature, for laws that could help make children safer.

“We see other issues that need to be addressed,” she said. “As a grassroots community voice, we want to continue to let lawmakers know how we feel.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj