Congress started out a few years ago with a good idea: Set up a nationwide listing of sex offenders so it would be possible to know when dangerous offenders moved across state lines.
But Congress overreached. The final form of that legislation was heavy-handed, imposing rigid requirements on the states.
The Adam Walsh Act, passed in 2006 (Video), required states to adopt a uniform registry that includes all sex offenders regardless of the seriousness of their crimes. To get the registry up and running, states in most cases were to purchase new computer technology and devote increased law enforcement hours to processing offenders according to federal rules. States were given five years to comply.
Certainly, society has a crucial responsibility to punish sex crimes and protect citizens from offenders. Sex offenders now are the largest group of prisoners in Nebraska’s correctional institutions, overtaking drug dealers and drug users in total numbers.
- Society has a responsibility to punish all crime and all criminals the same, not single out one specific group because they are each to target, that is the basis of corruption and exploitation.
But the approach taken by Congress has turned out to be a case where tough-sounding legislation was nearly unworkable. Congress imposed an impractical, unfunded mandate on already burdened state governments.
The law has been so overreaching and costly that 34 states have fallen short in implementing its provisions. Some say they will decline to go along with the law even though that means that means losing 10 percent of their federal criminal justice funding.
- Which, by the way, could be extortion or bribery, which is a crime.
In Texas, a study showed the state would lose $1.4 million annually as a penalty for non-compliance. But that was a pittance compared with projected costs of compliance: $39 million.
Ohio was the first state to become compliant. As it turned out, in the first two years of operation Ohio spent $10 million alone in defending itself against lawsuits from offenders sentenced to the registry. Had Ohio continued with its previous state-run approach, the penalty costs from the feds over the same period would have been about $2 million.
Iowa is among the 34 states falling short, suffering a $200,000 penalty. Last spring, Nebraska received word that the feds considered the state’s efforts to conform to the federal law insufficient.