Friday, December 13, 2013
BY MAL LEARY, Capitol News Service
AUGUSTA -- Lawmakers changed the state's sex offender registry law earlier this year, but it still falls short of the minimum federal requirements, which means a federal grant tied to the law will again be reduced by 10 percent.
Last year the total grants to the state under the program were more than $1.3 million, and the state was allowed to use the 10 percent penalty money for work on improving the registry, said Matt Ruel, with the State Bureau of Identification, which oversees Maine's registry.
Ruel said that the state will ask if the same can be done this year "so I can't say what the penalty will be."
Ruel said the federal program was funded for the first six months of the federal budget year that started Oct. 1, and could be significantly reduced in the second half of the year as part of deficit reduction legislation.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, instituted in 2006, was named after a Florida boy who was killed 30 years ago by a sex offender. The law requires states to develop registries that will feed data into a national sex offender data base, and those were supposed to be complete by July 2011.
The fact that it requires juvenile offenders to be on a registry has been a non-starter for Maine lawmakers.
"We are headed down the path that is the best for Maine," said Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, co-chairman of the legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. "There are some areas that our committee has very much objected to around juveniles and juvenile sex offenders."
He said the requirement that states maintain a registry for juveniles has run into opposition from both parties.
He agrees with those that believe juveniles should be treated differently than adults in all types of crimes.
Plummer said Maine is not the only state to reject the strict requirements under the federal law. Only 16 states have met the requirements as interpreted by the Justice Department.
Five states have rejected the law and are losing the 10 percent penalty money. Those states -- Arizona, Arkansas, California, Nebraska and Texas -- find it cheaper to forego the federal money than administer the program, the Associated Press reported last week.
Maine is finding the same thing with regards to the juvenile requirement.
"From what we were told in committee, it would cost us far more to implement a registry with juveniles than the penalty we are getting in lost federal funds," Plummer said.
Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, former co-chair of the committee, agrees with Plummer.
"We were told it would cost a lot not only to create a new registry, it would cost a lot to maintain it," he said.
"What we are doing now, the adult offenders, is what we should be doing and not expanding it to kids."
Gerzofsky said the law was the result of years of work by committee members to find one that would work for Maine. Both Gerzofsky and Plummer expect changes to be proposed in the new Legislature, as they have been proposed in every session for a decade.
The state supreme court is considering a case that challenges the registry law, arguing it violates the rights of plaintiffs who were convicted before the law requiring them to register as sex offenders existed.
That lawsuit does not apply to the new registry law, which separates offenders into three categories: those who must register and send address changes to the state for 10 years, those that must register for 25 years and a group that must register and update their whereabouts for life.
Ruel hopes Congress will make changes to the law and abolish the penalty for states not meeting every requirement of the law. The House passed re-authorization measure for the law eliminates the juvenile registry requirement that offenders register for life. It also creates a new grant program to help the states treat juvenile sex offenders.
But, the Senate has taken no action on the bill except to refer it to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which does not meet again until after the November elections.