WASHINGTON - A senator who sponsored a key provision in the Adam Walsh Act mandating better tracking of convicted sex offenders wants the Department of Justice to stop allowing states to ignore a key provision of the law.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Thursday he would ask the Justice department to stop giving extensions to the 46 states that have failed to come into compliance with the landmark 2006 law.
The first deadline for the states was in July 2009. The deadline has since been extended twice.
Dorgan said that, without extensions, the states risk losing tens of millions of dollars if they don't update their tracking systems -- and in some cases pass state laws -- by the current July 2011 deadline.
Because states keep their own sex offender databases, their records often don't sync well with files from other jurisdictions. A driving idea behind the Adam Walsh legislation was that uniform definitions and bookkeeping standards would help form a more seamless national tracking system, helping make sure convicted sex offenders don't slip through the cracks.
"This is life or death. We either do this and we're going to have a national searchable database, or we're not," said Dorgan, who retires in January from the Senate. "If we do it, we will provide much greater protection."
Dorgan said he would put this request in a formal letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Dorgan's action comes less than two weeks after a Scripps Howard News Service investigation found that the location of 100,000 convicted sex offenders is unknown to authorities.
In all, more than 700,000 offenders have been convicted of a sex crime in the United States -- a number that has grown by 100,000 since 2006, according to records from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
At issue is the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which is part of the Adam Walsh law.
The registration provision requires a three-tiered offender classification system and the listing of offenders for between 15 years and life, depending on the severity of the crime.
Only four states -- Delaware, Florida, Ohio and South Dakota -- have the upgraded systems in place, though some other states are close to being onboard.
Kara McCarthy, a Justice department spokeswoman, said she's not aware of any plans to offer states another extension, but couldn't say whether more time has been ruled out. "I don't know what the attorney general is thinking," she said.
Under the Adam Walsh law, states that don't update their sex offender tracking may lose 10 percent of their share of funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, the primary federal source of funds for state and local criminal justice programs.
Previous deadlines to enact the tighter sex offender rules came and went without the Justice department withholding the grant money.
"It's now time to say to the rest of them, 'Look, you've had time to comply if you've decided not to comply, here's the penalty -- you're going to lose a portion of your Byrne Grant funding,'" Dorgan said.
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