Writing for the panel, Judge Messano continued: However, the Court has repeatedly said, a statute that changes the settled law and relates to substantive rights is prospective only, unless there is an unequivocal expression of contrary legislative intent. From its initial enactment, our courts have viewed all of Megan’s Law’s provisions as part of a comprehensive scheme, “a legitimate regulatory measure” in faithful service to the Legislature’s public safety objectives. Subsection (f) was part and parcel of the Legislature’s reasonable conclusion that “the risk of re-offense can be fairly measured, and that knowledge of the presence of offenders provides increased defense against them.” Subsection (g) altered settled law in that certain registrants, like G.H. and G.A., can no longer terminate their registration obligations even though they no longer pose a threat to the safety of others, as actually found by the trial courts when each judge granted appellants relief from CSL pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(c).
The State argues we should infer the Legislature intended retroactive application of subsection (g) because a different interpretation “would be contrary to the public safety purpose underlying the amendment and Megan’s Law itself.” This argument ignores the fact that the Legislature believed Megan’s Law, as originally enacted in 1994, fully satisfied its public safety objectives, even though it permitted potential relief from registration pursuant to subsection (f).
Moreover, the legislative history of subsection (g) supports no such assertion. The sponsor and committee statements in both the Assembly and the Senate make clear that subsection (g) was enacted to meet the requirements of the now repealed Wetterling Act and to insure continued federal funding. See Sponsor’s Statement to S. 2714 (Nov. 19, 2001); Senate Law and Pub. Safety Comm., Statement to S. 2714 (Nov. 29, 2001); Sponsor’s Statement to A. 3987 (Dec. 6, 2001); Assembly Law and Pub. Safety Comm., Statement to A. 3987 (Dec. 13, 2001).
Another counter to the State’s position is that almost every instance in which sex offenders are more harshly punished is consistent “with a public safety purpose” since it is consistent with deterrence. That argument ignores constitutional rights and fundamental fairness considerations.