Six years after a bill establishing a national sex offender registry was signed into law, Texas and most other states are not participating.
Texas officials say the national registry is too costly, and it's willing to risk losing about $1.4 million in grant money that would help local agencies enforce the law.
State lawmakers say the grant money is far less than the estimated $38 million it would cost to modify the state's registry program.
"We couldn't afford the national program," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "The local law enforcement doesn't have the money, and the state doesn't have the money."
Nearly three dozen states have failed to meet all the conditions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act because of concerns about how it works and how much it would cost. Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, California and Nebraska have opted out of the national registry.
Members of the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee made the decision following an interim meeting two years ago. Local law enforcement officials testified against complying with the act, saying it would add more sex offenders to the state's already extensive registry.
About 70,000 sex offenders were registered as of August, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The federal law, named after a boy kidnapped from a Florida mall and killed in 1981, was supposed to create a uniform system for registering and tracking sex offenders. However, soon after President George W. Bush signed it, many states realized they would have to overhaul their sex offender registration programs to comply.
States were required to comply by 2009, but the U.S. attorney general gave states an extension to July 2011 after many objected to a requirement that all juveniles 14 and older who had committed aggravated sexual assaults register for 25 years.
Texas juveniles are required to register for 10 years after they leave the juvenile system. The state, however, gives judges discretion to waive or remove a juvenile from the register. They also can defer a decision until after the juvenile successfully completes therapy. Those options would be removed under the federal law.
States also have concerns because the federal law categorizes offenders by crime and not by the risk they pose.
To comply, Texas would have to add certain offenses that require registration under the federal law. The state also would have to eliminate its use assessment to determine each offender's risk to the community. Offenders are registered as either low, moderate or high risk.
Allison Taylor, executive director of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, testified that Texas has been working to narrow the sex offender registry to dangerous sex offenders and the federal law would undo this work. The growing registry has made it difficult and costly for local law enforcement to maintain the registry and monitor sex offenders, she told the committee.
Proponents of the federal law had hoped it would ease the risk that states with less-stringent registration would become havens for sex offenders.
Whitmire said the state's system is effective, but lawmakers will need to figure out how to ensure that only most dangerous offenders are on the list. Many offenders are registered because they had consensual sex with a minor, he said.
Texas lawmakers also should consider repealing language that prohibits de-registering low-risk offenders, he said. Adult offenders are required to register for life.
Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said the state made the right choice to ignore federal law. Texas is probably one of the toughest states on sexual offenders, so there's no need to waste money changing the system, she said.
The penalty for not complying is 10 percent of Byrne grant funds, given to law enforcement agencies for crime prevention.
Texas and the other four states that have decided not to honor the law still have the option to reapply for withheld money.
The 29 states that are in partial compliance have asked to have their withheld money released to help them meet conditions of the law. ..Source.. by Renée C. Lee