POLL QUESTION

Maine again faces penalty for gap in sex offender registry law

Posted Oct. 08, 2012, at 5 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 08, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.

Poll Question

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers changed the state’s sex offender registry law earlier this year, but it still falls short of the minimum requirements in the federal Adam Walsh law. That will again reduce the state’s grant under the federal Justice Assistance Grant program by 10 percent.

“We have been told by the SMART (U.S. Justice Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking) Office that the changes do not meet their requirements under the Adam Walsh Act,” said Matt Ruel with the State Bureau of Identification, which oversees Maine’s registry.

Last year, the total grant to the state under the program was more than $1.3 million. Because Maine did not meet Walsh Act requirements, the federal government withheld 10 percent of this money. Maine then applied for permission to use the penalty money for improvements to the existing registry. That request was approved.

“We will be asking again to do that so I can’t say what the penalty will be this year,” Ruel said.

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 cut in the second half of the year as part of deficit reduction legislation.

The five-year-old Adam Walsh Act was named after a Florida boy who was killed 30 years ago by a sex offender. The law requires the states to develop registries that will feed data into a national sex offender database. It requires juvenile offenders to be on a registry, and that 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.”

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.

“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,” he said.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick the Democratic senator on the panel and a 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 new law that has just taken effect was the result of years of work by committee members to craft a measure that works for Maine. Both Gerzofsky and Plummer expect changes will be proposed in the new Legislature, as they have been in during 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 any address changes to the state for 10 years, those who must register for 25 years and a group who 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. The House-passed reauthorization 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.

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