**Update 10/31/2012 – Read About the Final Law Here
There has been little media coverage regarding the negative effects that Pennsylvania senate bill 1183 and house bill 1958 will have on families across the state. This bill is intended to put PA in conformity with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which will set national standards for sex offense laws.
The little media publicity this issue has been given has focused primarily upon two issues: 1) the bill will close loopholes that preclude certain out-of-state offenders, as well as homeless offenders from registering, and 2) the passage of the bill will prevent PA from losing 10% of its federal funding.
The truth, however, is that 1) the loophole issue is a fractional component of the bill, and 2) other states that have implemented SORNA provisions have determined that the amount of money they would have lost by not implementing SORNA would have been substantially less than the costs they incurred by implementing it. Some states, such as Texas, have outright stated that they will not implement the provisions. Texas called the AWA “one-size-fits-all” legislation that would cost 30 times the amount of federal funds that will be withheld if the state does not comply.
What are the real issues of the bill? 1) Hundreds of Pennsylvania's will be forced to register as sex offenders (retroactively) even though they were not previously required to; and 2) individuals that have fulfilled their Megan's Law obligations will once again be "re-captured" and required to re-register. The broader issue at hand perhaps is that the misinformed public wants to unconditionally eradicate sex offenders, and officials are more than happy to comply if it means more votes.
These new potential changes bring with them both ethical and constitutional issues. First, the Megan's Law website will be flooded with individuals who do not pose a risk to our children. For example, PA is considering adding "indecent exposure" and "corruption of a minor" as registrable offenses. This means someone who was seen urinating in public by a child will be placed on the website next to serial child rapists and labeled as sex offender for at least 10 years. Are these the types of people we want on the list? What about the children of these people, who will be unnecessarily teased and bullied at school?
Secondly, the PA and US Constitutions have provisions that prevent an enhanced punishment for a crime from applying to individuals that committed the crime in the past, which is exactly what this new bill will do. This issue has been raised in several states, and some of these states have declared the provisions of SORNA to be unconstitutional. Tens of millions of tax payers' dollars were spent on appellate issues before the ruling occurred. Some states, however, have ruled that sex offender registration is not punishment, and therefore the provisions of SORNA were constitutional. It's hard to imagine anyone being able to say that being labeled as a sex offender and humiliated is not punishment. There are many instances where individuals have committed suicide in lieu of having to register.
The take home message is that not all sex crimes are the same, and not all individuals that commit a sex crime are a threat to our children. The public needs to be educated about these issues instead of being spoon fed myths and sensationalized stories by the media. Many of the people that will be affected by these new laws have learned from their mistake, and have moved forward in creating a healthy and successful life for them and their families. Applying these laws to these people will undoubtedly break their spirit and derail their future. Most people are quick to judge anyone who has been convicted of a sex crime, until they or a loved one are accused and subjected to the draconian laws regarding these issues.
State v. Williams, Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-3374
Ohio – "We conclude that S.B. 10, as applied to Williams and any other sex offender who committed an offense prior to the enactment of S.B. 10, violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from enacting retroactive laws".
John Doe v Supreme Court of Alaska No. 6290 – July 25, 2008
Alaska – "We conclude that it does because ASORA imposes burdens that have the
effect of adding punishment beyond what could be imposed when the crime was
If Virginia chose to comply with SORNA, the state would spend $12,097,000 more than it would if it chose not to implement SORNA and forfeit 10 percent of its yearly Byrne grant, a loss totaling approximately $400,000.
1) Ohio’s law has twice been declared unconstitutional, which opponents had warned would happen.
2) The funding the state stood to lose if it did not conform — typically hundreds of
thousands of dollars a year — has been offset by millions spent complying with the law and defending against thousands of lawsuits.
1) Other states have voiced concerns about the federal act’s requirements, including how it addresses retroactive punishment and that it seeks to include juveniles on the national registry. Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said her problem with the Adam Walsh Act is that it treats all states the same. “There is no flexibility built into it,” she said. “I understand that a percentage of [federal] grant money could be withheld, but full compliance would be much more expensive for Maine.”
For the three plaintiffs, the fallout has been substantial.
Plaintiff No. 1 said he's had people call his boss. "They were trying to get me fired in hopes of making me homeless," he said. He also said his wife has been harassed. People have asked her how she could be married to a sexual predator. He said his daughter has also been the target of verbal abuse.
Plaintiff No. 2 said he's lost his job. "After LB 285, I was let go from the job that I had," he said. "I've not been able to find work because I'm on the registry."
Plaintiff No. 3 said his family is paying the price. "My children are taunted at school," he said. "Strangers, not even from the neighborhood, are approaching my house. My
wife was traumatized."
All three plaintiffs said the registry's rules are making them pay twice for their crimes and they said that's unconstitutional.
1) Many states don't want to change their laws; others believe the legislation's cost outweighs its predicted benefits, she said. Texas has put the estimated federal funding cuts at $1.4 million, compared to a cost of $38.7 million.
2) The California Sex Offender Management Board also recommended against implementing the provisions of the Adam Walsh Act, stating, "California state law and practice related to offender risk assessment, juvenile registration and sex offender monitoring is more consistent with evidence-based practice that can demonstrate real public safety outcomes."
3) The number of offenders on Wyoming's registry increased from 125 to 1,450 after the state moved from risk-based assessment to a tier system for registration, said Kevin R. Smith, deputy director of the state's Criminal Justice Information Services.
4) Critics say that using offense-based registration instead of an approach based on risk-assessment — favored by states like Texas and California — pulls too many offenders onto the registry and overburdens law enforcement, preventing police from keeping a close eye on the worst of the worst.
5) Some people would rather die than face a lifetime on the registry. One of those people, Roy Martin, hanged himself in his garage after learning he would be reclassified under Ohio's SB 10.
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