Monday, December 1, 2008

Iowa May Defy Federal Mandates for AWA Iowa lawmakers could change sex offender law.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- As Iowa faces a deadline to update its sex offender law to match a stricter federal one, state lawmakers may use the opportunity to get rid of a controversial 2,000-foot rule restricting where offenders can live. Under the federal law, sex offenders would have to stay on an online public registry at least five years longer, reveal more personal information about where they work and go to school, and face more supervision from law enforcement.

If Iowa doesn't comply with the federal provisions by the July deadline, the state could lose up to $450,000 for law enforcement activities. (But the cost of implementation is many times greater than this amount - see "Cost to States" post on this blog)

For some Iowa lawmakers, the federal law is providing an opportunity to toss out the state's 2,000-foot state rule that bans sex offenders from living near child care centers and schools.

Ross Loder, who lobbies for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the department will finalize a draft bill early this week. The Legislature reconvenes in January.

Child abuse experts contend up to 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by a person known to the child's family, and it's a myth that children are most vulnerable to attacks by strangers who approach them at school or other public places.

Some victim advocates and lawmakers are leery of the new federal law, called the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, said the provisions would cost Iowa law enforcement more in time and money. "When you're adding additional burdens on state and local taxpayers, you'd better make darn sure what you're doing is going to result in better public safety," said Kreiman, who heads the judiciary committee in the Iowa Senate.

Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the existing 2,000-foot rule is "extremely bad public policy." He urged lawmakers to be careful when applying the federal law.

"Several courts already have declared portions of the Walsh act unconstitutional, and state legislatures around the country are beginning to defy its mandates. Iowa's leaders should do the same," Stone said.

But, Loder said: "If Iowa were to stand out and say, 'We're not going to comply,' is the implication that we're going to be kind of like an island for offenders who don't want to be in this national system?" (Not if other states follow your lead, as they should)