Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Controlling sex offenders takes money states don't have.
Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act in 2006 to create uniform national tracking standards for sex offenders. President Bush signed it amid White House fanfare. But some of the law's supporters are starting to wonder whether they were given a fancy photo op, and not much else. "Was it feel-good legislation to make the victims feel better," asks Stacie Rumenap, of Stop Child Predators, "and then put no money into the bill?"
So far, the answer appears to be yes. Congress has left funding for Justice Department programs on autopilot for the past couple of years, so the Adam Walsh Act has received only limited dollars for operational costs, and no grant money has been available to states. As a result, not one state is ready to meet some fairly steep compliance requirements that are scheduled to take effect in July.
All states have some form of registration and community notification rules for sex offenders, but enforcement varies widely. The federal law was meant to regularize procedures and penalties, so offenders wouldn't have any safe harbors. But compliance would cost cash-strapped states millions they're not willing to spare.
That's a fair excuse, says Roxanne Lieb, of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. "You don't have to argue about the justifications, the political merit of the enterprise." That's especially true because the law was passed in Washington, D.C., not the state capitol. "If it had been a state law," Lieb says, "the officials responsible for making the decisions about Adam Walsh wouldn't have had the same authority to argue about the cost."
The law's supporters hope that Congress will push back the deadline and send states more money for it. "I still think it will be a significant law," says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "But states need help."
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