The Michigan Capitol is shown at twilight Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, in Lansing, Mich. Lawmakers continue work on budget bills that deal with a $2.8 billion shortfall before an Oct. 1 deadline. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
LANSING -- "I can't put it behind me. Twelve years ago, I can't put it behind me. It's still there."
Josh Sevenski's life changed dramatically in the late 1990s.
"I was in high school, she was a freshman," he tells News 10 during an interview in the living room of Josh's Lansing home.
Just 17 years old at the time, Josh began dating a 15-year-old girl in the Mason School District -- not an unlikely pairing, but one that would land Josh in some serious trouble.
"Basically, she got pregnant," he says. "She was in cheerleading, so her cheerleading coach found out, told the school principal about it."
The principal told the county prosecutor, and Josh was charged with
criminal sexual conduct for having sex with someone younger than 16, the legal age of consent in Michigan.
He was bewildered.
"What did I do wrong?" Josh says he asked himself at the time. "What did we do wrong? Teenagers get together."
He plead to a lesser charge of gross indecency. He got three years' probation, was told to stay away from anyone under the age of 16 and perhaps worst -- under state law, Josh would spend 25 years on the state's sex-offender registry. Four times a year, he has to check in with the state police and update his address.
"I hate going into the state police post," he says. "It's the worst thing I could do. I'm not completely off it, you know? I can't put it behind me."
The ordeal sent Josh, now 30 years old, into a tailspin. He and his girlfriend split up, he dove into alcohol, had trouble finding a job and didn't date again for 11 years.
"You meet someone, get to know them and then have to say, 'Hey, I'm on the sex-offender list,'" he says. "That's something that always stopped me from really talking to people, meeting people."
Stories like Josh's prompted lawmakers to re-think its sex-offender registry. Under a new law, the so-called Romeo and Juliet cases will be taken off the public list.
"Typically, the Romeo and Juliet offender is a 17-year-old boy, 15-year-old girl, totally consensual, boyfriend-girlfriend-type activity," says state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. He sponsored the bill, which passed both chambers and was signed into law this April by Governor Snyder
It removes the so-called Romeos from the public list and creates a new three-tiered system of sex offenders to distinguish what officials
call the real criminals from the less serious offenses.
Child predators and rapists, for instance, who used to be lumped in with everybody else and placed on the public list for 25 years -- will now be on for life.
Sgt. Chris Hawkins with the Michigan State Police says this is precisely the change needed.
"Our registry has been very over-broad, and this has really given us a chance to more narrowly tailor who's going to be on the registry," Hawkins says.
As for Josh, he's due to be married this summer and says he can't wait to have his name wiped from the public registry.
"It'll feel great," he says. "Like the beginning of a new life."