Law and Criminal Justice Committee Session:  SORNA Update

Posted August 16, 2010

At the recent NCSL Legislative Summit in Louisville, the NCSL Law and Criminal Justice Committee heard about sex offender registration legislation in three states related to federal SORNA requirements and about state responses to SORNA from a child safety advocate. (The full session video is on the NCSL web-site.)

Mary Coffee with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement discussed SORNA legislation in that state, one of just three states currently deemed in compliance. Coffee is a planning and policy administrator and heads the department’s Offender Registration and Tracking Service.  She said that Florida’s compliance capped years of work that included legislation enacted in 2007.  The law addressed offenders required to register, including juvenile adjudications for acts that meet serious conviction offense requirements. Coffee said the Florida law meets the juvenile requirements of SORNA without broadening application to juveniles any more than needed under the federal act. Florida’s registry now includes 116 juvenile cases involving very serious acts, according to Coffee. She said the compliance process in Florida included discussion of what is “substantial compliance.”   The state submitted a 200-page compliance package in late 2009, and subsequently provided back up documentation on a number of items to the federal Office of Sex Offender Supervision, Management, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART). The state was announced to be in SORNA compliance on May 18, 2010.

Matthew Kanai, general counsel for law enforcement in the Ohio's Attorney’s Office discussed that state, the first one found in compliance with SORNA in September 2009. Ohio also passed significant legislation in 2007, which created a new tier system for sex offenders and removed judicial determination of classification. He said that not only was the compliance process in that state “resource intensive,” the Attorney General’s Office also had to reclassify some 26,000 offenders manually to meet the new tier requirements. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court vacated classification aspects of the state’s SORNA compliance law, holding that it violates the separation of powers doctrine of the Ohio Constitution. The case, State v. Bodyke now has the AGs office reworking, or “declassifying,” those offenders. Kanai said the court’s ruling that has left them with no way to classify offenders without a judicial order.

Ed Smart of Utah also spoke to the committee, representing the Surviving Parents Coalition.   An advocate for child safety, Smart spoke of the 2003 abduction of his daughter and his work since to lobby Congress for the Adam Walsh Act, which passed in 2006. He said that significant compliance across the states is needed for a national registry to be effective; and that states are not likely to expand and improve registries without the federal requirement.

Texas Representative Jerry Madden, the Law and Criminal Justice Committee Chair, discussed the implications for states of compliance with the Adam Walsh Act. He identified key state concerns with SORNA, including unfunded federal mandates, technology requirements, retroactivity and juvenile registration requirements. He pointed out a variety of stakeholder and interest groups that have aligned with NCSL in expressing concerns about the SORNA provisions of the Adam Walsh Act. Representative Madden said the fact that 47 states and 210 federally recognized tribes have not yet complied with SORNA demonstrates the law’s unwieldy requirements.  He said that one might question whether Adam Walsh requirements actually make children safer than do existing states laws. He pointed to policy in Texas, for example, to civilly commit the most dangerous offenders.