May 25, 2018
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Maine one of many states failing to comply with federal sex offender laws

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — State officials said Friday they are unsure how much money they stand to lose for failing to meet a deadline to comply with a federal law related to sex offender registries.

One thing is certain, though: It is almost certainly less than the amount of money it would cost Maine to come into full compliance.

As of Friday, Maine was one of at least 36 states that failed to meet requirements by the July 27 deadline of the Adam Walsh Act that passed five years ago.

The law, named after a Florida boy who was killed 30 years ago by a sex offender, calls on states to work toward changing their registries in a way that feeds into a national sex offender database.

The number of compliant states could shrink after the Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending and Tracking reviews additional state plans, but Maine will not be on the list.

“For Maine to comply, it would be a radical departure from what we have now,” said Matthew Ruel with the State’s Bureau of Identification, which oversees Maine’s Sex Offender Registry. “I couldn’t say what the dollar impact would be because, frankly, we don’t know what substantial compliance would look like.”

According to the Department of Justice, states that fail to comply could lose 10 percent of their Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. Maine received more than $1.3 million in funding for 2011 under that program.

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said he would be surprised if the the Department of Justice withholds state funds.

“But I’m more concerned about doing what’s right for Maine,” said Plummer, the House chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Other states have voiced concerns about the federal act’s requirements, including how it addresses retroactive punishment and that it seeks to include juveniles on the national registry.

Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said her problem with the Adam Walsh Act is that it treats all states the same.

“There is no flexibility built into it,” she said. “I understand that a percentage of [federal] grant money could be withheld, but full compliance would be much more expensive for Maine.”

Ruel said his office would know more in a few weeks about what Maine’s next steps are but he has been in close contact with the SMART office.

Haskell, meanwhile, said she has been trying to set up a workshop of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to discuss her bill, LD 1514, which was held during the recent Legislative session.

Haskell’s bill seeks to overhaul Maine’s Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act, first passed in 1990, by creating a three-tiered system for offenders.

Plummer supports Haskell’s bill and said it distills what his committee has been working on for several years.

“I had hoped to get it done this last session, but there were several new members on the committee and I remember how long it took me to get up to speed,” Plummer said, adding that he plans to schedule a workshop on LD 1514 sometime this fall.

Ruel said he’s not sure if Haskell’s bill addresses all the requirements spelled out in the Adam Walsh Act. Part of the problem, he said, is that different state’s courts have ruled in different ways on the constitutionality of sex offender registries.

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