TX May Not Comply With AWA

December 23, 2008

Dallasnews.com : Crime and Punishment.

An effort to create uniform nationwide standards for how to keep track of sex offenders has stalled largely because states being asked to comply with the new federal guidelines can’t or won’t pay the costs.

After Texas legislators convene in January, they’ll have to decide whether to comply with a new federal law that came without funding, or to stick with existing state statutes. Chances are good the Lone Star State won’t be alone if it fails to meet a July 2009 deadline; so far, not a single state has complied with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

California officials estimated compliance would cost the state more than $21 million, according to Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment. The as-yet-undetermined price tag for Texas could also run into the millions.

If states don’t comply, they’ll lose 10 percent of some federal grant money. In Texas, not complying could cost about $700,000, while complying will cost millions more.
That may make the decision simple, said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, long an advocate of strong sex offender laws.

“Seven hundred thousand on the one hand vs. $20 million on the other hand? It’s pretty easy to resolve,” she said. “Our laws are strong, and we don’t need to comply.” The implementation cost may be the biggest obstacle, but it is far from the only one.

She agreed that financing is a “really large issue” but said “there is some hysteria out there, unnecessary hysteria.”

In addition, some states disagree with the federal provisions for registration of juvenile offenders, retroactive registration and rating offender risk levels.

Another sticking point for Ms. Shapiro is how far back the federal law reaches in requiring registration. Texas requires registration for sex offenses dating to the 1970s. But she is troubled by the requirement that an offender who completed his sentence and then reoffends with a nonsex crime could be forced to register.
Finally, Ms. Taylor said the federal requirement that offenders be assigned a risk level based on a conviction instead of an evaluation may be a deal breaker for Texas.

In the last year or so, Texas, like many states, has moved to “dynamic risk assessments” to determine the danger to the public, she said, but “if you are basing registration on risk level to the community, you would not be in compliance.”

The federal government has provided for two one-year extensions, meaning final compliance wouldn’t be required until 2011.

“We want to be tough on crime,” he said, “but we don’t want to be absurd.”

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