Google/AP : Most states have not adopted sex offender rules.
More than three years after Congress ordered stepped-up monitoring of sex offenders, only one state has adopted the government's strict new requirements, and some others are weighing whether to ignore the law and just pay a penalty.
So far, Ohio is the lone state to meet the new federal standards (an embarrassment for the people of Ohio). Elsewhere, efforts have been hampered by high costs and legal challenges from the nation's 686,000 registered sex offenders.
The initial deadline for states to comply was in July. Then the deadline was extended to July 2010, although several states have signaled they may still be unable to meet it. States that do not adopt the mandates risk losing millions of dollars in federal grants (which pales in comparison to the cost of implementation).
Last year, a federal judge in Nevada declared the law unconstitutional because it would subject offenders to additional penalties after they have served their time. The Ohio Supreme Court heard similar arguments this month from more than 26,000 sex offenders who were convicted before the law was signed.
In addition to the legal challenges, states are also struggling with the cost, which could climb into the millions of dollars.
"We have states being very laid back, and states where legislators are pulling out their hair trying to comply," said Alisa Klein of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. "And there's lots of states waiting for another state to bust a move and say, 'We're not going to comply.'"
In California, the state's Sex Offender Management Board estimated last year that adopting the requirements would cost at least $38 million.
Congress tried to encourage states to adopt the measure by threatening to take 10 percent of their federal crime-prevention grants if they do not comply. The grants have swelled with stimulus funding but typically range from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million each year, depending on the size of the state.
"Obviously this funding loss pales in comparison with the cost of complying with the act," said Dana Simas, spokeswoman for the California Department of Justice.
So lawmakers are locked in a dilemma: They must spend millions of dollars to adopt the system or back off a program that is designed to protect the public from some of society's most dangerous criminals.
The Justice Department declared in September that Ohio had "substantially implemented" the law's requirements, leading to a fresh round of complaints. The state's public defender office said court appeals alone could cost $10 million.
Gary Reece is a 50-year-old convicted sex offender who is challenging Ohio's efforts to comply with the federal law.
Reece said he was previously allowed to register once a year and that his name would have been removed after 10 years without a serious conviction. The state's new measure, he said, would put his name on the registry for life and require him to register in person four times a year. "It's a tremendous burden, no doubt about it," Reece said. "Every 90 days you have to take off work and go register — and if you miss once, you're going back to jail."
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