Group sues over passport marker for sex offenders

AP

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) A group representing sex offenders sued again Thursday to challenge a law that requires a marker to be placed in the passports of people convicted of sex offenses against children.

Attorney Janice Bellucci filed the lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles on behalf of her nonprofit organization, the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, and two California sex offenders.

Opponents of the marker have called it a "Scarlet Letter." Former President Barack Obama signed the law in 2016 to comply with a provision of the International Megan's Law, which seeks to curb child sex tourism and exploitation.

"Never before has this nation stigmatized a class of individuals on a document so foundational to U.S. citizenship," reads the lawsuit.

A San Francisco-based federal judge dismissed an earlier version of the lawsuit in 2016 because the rules were not yet in place.

The State Department said in October it would start using a notice printed inside the back cover of the passport book that reads: "The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to (U.S. law)."

The department said it does not comment on lawsuits.

Bellucci estimated that the requirement could affect more than 500,000 Americans and their families. She said it is having "a dramatic chilling effect," causing some sex offenders to avoid traveling overseas or to avoid applying for a passport.

Her suit says the State Department violated procedures by failing to let the public comment on its plans. It says the department also exceeded its legal authority by threatening not to issue passports to some offenders.

The State Department previously said the notice will not prevent sex offenders from traveling outside the United States nor affect the validity of their passports. However, other countries may prohibit or place strict restrictions on the travel of convicted felons.

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