LINCOLN -- The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee is examining the effects of a federal statute that has changed Nebraska law on sex offenders, their classification and their presence on national sex offender registries.
The Oct. 11 meeting was held to study the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 and recent changes to Nebraska statutes on sex offender registries.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, signed into federal law in 2006, was passed in Nebraska in 2009. A key component of the law requires that any individual convicted of a sex offense is put on a public sex offender registry. However, Nebraska has been found to be not in compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, which puts the state in danger of losing 10 percent of its federal grants for anti-crime initiatives, projected to be around $167,000.
“The federal approach to this problem has been a moving target,” Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha said. “It has been hard for policymakers on the state level to come up with compliant systems.”
Currently, only seven states are in compliance with the act, including Ohio, Delaware, Florida, South Dakota, Michigan, Nevada and Wyoming.
The law has been criticized by many for being applied retroactively, which Nebraska lawmakers prohibited when they enacted it. It is also criticized for villainizing people who were convicted for non-violent and otherwise less severe crimes and people who have served their sentences or probation and committed no new crimes.
Other opponents of the law argue that by placing everyone who has ever been convicted of a sex crime onto the registry, instead of the most dangerous criminals, the law makes it difficult to tell who the actual threats are.
“I believe sex offender registries online increase recidivism,” Eric Baird told the committee. He was convicted of possession of child pornography and is on the offender registry. “The registry keeps people from employment and housing, which are known to reduce recidivism.”
Nebraska’s old system of classifying sex offenders was based on a risk assessment, said Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent David Sankey. Before the change in statute, state patrol staff would compile all information about an offender, which would be put into a risk assessment tool and reviewed by a psychologist, who would then classify the individual as a level one, two or three.
Level one individuals, deemed least dangerous and unlikely to reoffend, used to be placed in a private database that the public couldn’t access and was only available to law enforcement, Sankey said.
Level two individuals were placed in a database that could only be accessed by schools and childcare facilities, and level three individuals were placed in a public database.
Now, the system is offense-based, and individuals receive labels of tier one, two or three. Regardless of what tier the individuals are ranked, every one of them is on a public sex offender registry.
“Prior to January 1st, 2010, I was ranked a level one,” Daniel Konecky, who completed a year of probation for a charge of second-degree assault of a minor in 2005, told the committee. “I feel like I’m being punished again after completing my sentence and proving my worth, being a good husband and father,” Konecky said. “When I was sentenced, I was told I would not be on the online registry as a level one. If I was really a horrible monster like my lifetime registry leads people to believe, why did I only receive a year of probation?”
With the new system, Konecky and many others face more severe compliance checks. Tier three individuals must report to law enforcement four times a year, tier two individuals twice a year, and tier one individuals once a year, along with any time the individual changes jobs, moves, buys or sells a vehicle, leaves the area of jurisdiction for longer than three days, and other provisions.
The old system required that the appeal process had to be exhausted before sex offender could be put into the registry, which was dangerous for the public, Sankey said, adding that there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems.
Ashford said he thinks the states should be able to submit a plan that works for them, and the committee is considering a variety of options.
“We must balance the fact that there is very little risk for many of these people to reoffend with the public’s right to know,” Ashford said