Sex Offender Law Strains States: State and Federal Officials Are at Odds over Requirements of the Adam Walsh Act

By Hammond, Sarah | State Legislatures, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Sex Offender Law Strains States: State and Federal Officials Are at Odds over Requirements of the Adam Walsh Act


Hammond, Sarah, State Legislatures


As a father of two girls ... I will see states get the support they need to implement the Adam Walsh law," President Obama told John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," at a White House meeting on March 3.

The Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act of 2006 is named after Walsh's son, Adam, who was kidnapped and murdered in Florida almost 30 years ago.

To comply with one portion of the law--the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act or SORNA--states must collect the uniform and specific types of information on sex offenders; establish rules consistent from state to state for how long the person must be registered; comply with regulations on how information is verified; share the information with appropriate agencies; and impose penalties for failing to register.

Attorney General Eric Holder extended the original 2009 deadline until July 27 because no state had acted. States also can request a second, one-year extension.

The act was written to enhance sex offender tracking systems nationwide and link all states to one national sex offender registry. All states already have sex offender registries in place, but laws differ on many aspects of registration. The new law aims to bring uniformity to the registries.

Little of the money authorized in the act has been appropriated to states, however, to help meet the numerous requirements in the measure. States that don't comply risk losing 10 percent of the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, which is the largest federal criminal justice funding stream to states. The grant is used to pay for many criminal justice system functions, including drug task forces and treatment, anti-gang units and other law enforcement activities. The 10 percent penalty is not a one-time hit. States will continue to incur the penalty each year until most of the requirements are met.

Kansas Representative Jan Pauls, a member of Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, says coming into compliance with SORNA is complicated by the budget hole Kansas lawmakers must close.

"SORNA would require more funding, but we are trying to make a good faith effort," she says. "But we need to be realistic about the resources we have available to try to come into compliance."

Pauls added, however, that whatever concerns lawmakers may have with SORNA, Walsh should be praised for his efforts to help kids.

"I recently visited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and was impressed with all of the good things that have come out of the horrific tragedy of Adam Walsh's murder," she says. "The center provides training, assistance and has established many successful programs, such as the Amber Alert program to help find missing children."

Since the original deadline, just Ohio, Delaware and two tribes in Oregon have complied, while others struggle with the costly and complex requirements of SORNA.

The Sex Offender, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking, or SMART, office in the Justice Department was created under the act to determine state compliance and provide guidance to states along the way.

State legislation related to sex offender registration and notification continues to be plentiful, even in the absence of compliance. …

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Sex Offender Law Strains States: State and Federal Officials Are at Odds over Requirements of the Adam Walsh Act
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