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December 23, 2008

"States wrestle with how to fund federal sex offender law"

The title of this post is the title of this effective piece from the Dallas Morning News.  Here are snippets:

An effort to create uniform nationwide standards for how to keep track of sex offenders has stalled largely because states being asked to comply with the new federal guidelines can't or won't pay the costs.

After Texas legislators convene in January, they'll have to decide whether to comply with a new federal law that came without funding, or to stick with existing state statutes. Chances are good the Lone Star State won't be alone if it fails to meet a July 2009 deadline; so far, not a single state has complied with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

The 2006 law was designed to crack down on sex offenders by requiring minimum standards for public registries, including who must register, for how long, and what information is made public. The law also set penalties for failing to register.

California officials estimated compliance would cost the state more than $21 million, according to Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment. The as-yet-undetermined price tag for Texas could also run into the millions.... 

If states don't comply, they'll lose 10 percent of some federal grant money.  In Texas, not complying could cost about $700,000, while complying will cost millions more. That may make the decision simple, said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, long an advocate of strong sex offender laws. "Seven hundred thousand on the one hand vs. $20 million on the other hand? It's pretty easy to resolve," she said. "Our laws are strong, and we don't need to comply."...

The implementation cost may be the biggest obstacle, but it is far from the only one. Guidelines for implementing the act were not finalized until July, making it difficult for states to get their new laws passed and implemented. In addition, some states disagree with the federal provisions for registration of juvenile offenders, retroactive registration and rating offender risk levels....

Texas leaders are particularly concerned that the new guidelines require lifelong offender registration for certain juveniles age 14 and over. The state experimented with mandatory registration several years ago, but at the urging of prosecutors, defense attorneys and experts, later opted to leave the decision to judges....

Regular readers likely can recall other press accounts of states struggling with the implementation of the Adam Walsh Act (some of which are linked below).  I am eager to see how the new Obama Administration and its Justice Department handle these problems (as well as the array of legal issues related to the act already causing splits in the federal courts).

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December 23, 2008 at 04:06 AM | Permalink

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