Two Decades of Sex Offender Legislation: June 2011

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U.S. Capitol

The federal government has passed several laws governing sex offender registration and notification policies in the past 16 years.

1994: The Jacob Wetterling Act required states to create registries of sexually violent offenders. When it passed, many states already had sex offender registration laws, but passed new laws to comply with the specifics in the federal law. The federal law specified how long offenders had to continue to register, which offenders were deemed most dangerous, how often states must registration information and who could have access to the information in the registries. Although there was no additional federal money, states risked losing crime control funds for not complying.

1996: Megan’s Law, two years later, focused on the public disclosure of the sex offender registration information. It requires state or local law enforcement agencies to “release relevant information that is necessary to protect the public” on anyone who’s required to register. As with the Wetterling Act, states that didn’t comply could lose federal money.

1996: The Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act passed six months later. It directed the FBI to establish a national database of sex offenders. The act also required offenders in a state without t a registry considered adequate under federal law to register with the FBI.

1997: Next came legislation requiring states to participate in the National Sex Offender Registry, a network that allows information to be shared among states and federal agencies. The FBI assumed registration responsibility for states without a program that met minimum federal standards. In 1998, the Sex Offender Management Assistance grants were established to help states comply with the registration requirements.

2006: Eight years later came the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which included the Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORNA) provisions. States were now required to add many new elements to their program of sex offender registration. Failure to comply will result in a10 percent reduction in federal law enforcement assistance grants. A federal sex offender management office was established along with new grants to help states improve registration and meet the requirements.

2008: The federal Sex Offender Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART) office released final guidelines on SORNA giving states until July 27, 2011 to comply.

2011: On Jan. 11, the supplemental, final federal guidelines were published.