03.19.09

Leahy Urges Attorney General To Extend Deadline For State Compliance With Sex Offender Registry Act

WASHINGTON (Thursday, March 19, 2009) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Justice Department to provide an extension to states and jurisdictions struggling to comply with the provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).  The Act was included as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which was signed into law in 2006.

Under the provisions of SORNA, states and other jurisdictions are required to comply with certain sex offender registry provisions within three years of the passage of the Adam Walsh Act.  The deadline for compliance is July 2009, and no state or jurisdiction has yet met the requirements mandated in SORNA.  The registry and notification program is costly to states that are facing mounting funding concerns amid the economic downturn.  The Vermont State Senate is considering a resolution in support of the establishment of the registry and notification system in Vermont, and urging an extension to allow the state to come into compliance with the federal law.

Leahy was joined by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in sending the letter to Attorney General Holder asking him to extend the deadline for compliance with SORNA for one year.  The Act permits the Attorney General to grant up to two one-year extensions of the deadline. 

“Granting such an extension would allow states and other jurisdictions time to strengthen and improve existing laws and sex offender registries consistent with SORNA,” the Members wrote.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and last year he authored legislation to reauthorize the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), an institution that has provided advocacy and outreach efforts to protect America’s children for over 20 years.  The reauthorization became law in May 2008.

The full text of the letter follows.  A PDF is available online.

March 19, 2009

The Honorable Eric Holder, Jr.

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We write to request that you exercise your statutory authority to extend for one year the time for all states and other jurisdictions to comply with provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) within the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (“the Adam Walsh Act”), P.L. No. 109-248, Title I, 120 Stat. 590-611 (2006) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 16901 et seq.).  Granting such an extension would allow states and other jurisdictions time to strengthen and improve existing laws and sex offender registries consistent with SORNA.

Under SORNA, Congress directed all states and other jurisdictions to comply with certain sex offender registry provisions within three years of passing the Adam Walsh Act, which was on July 27, 2006.  See 42 U.S.C. § 16924(a).  As a result, states and other jurisdictions now face a deadline in July of this year and potential penalties if they do not meet the statutory requirements of the Act. 

Unfortunately, to date, no state or other jurisdiction has been able to meet the statutory requirements of SORNA and, according to the Office of the Inspector General, no state is expected to fulfill its SORNA requirements by the deadline.  Despite significant efforts by many state legislatures, state and other jurisdictional agencies, there have been unforeseen difficulties in implementing the law and significant added costs, which are now even more burdensome in these difficult economic times.  Timely compliance by the states and other jurisdictions also has been hindered by the fact that the SMART office did not issue its Final Regulations until June 2008.   If extensions for compliance are not granted, states and other jurisdictions may face financial penalties that will only impede further efforts at compliance.  A situation where all states are unable to comply with the Adam Walsh Act and suffer penalties as a result does not help advance the vital goals of the Act.  

The Act does, however, permit the Attorney General to grant up to two one-year extensions of the deadline.  See 42 U.S.C. § 16924(b).  Granting this extension is supported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Criminal Justice Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures, as well as other interested groups.  We all believe that effective sex offender registries must be in place in all states, and granting the first one-year extension of the SORNA requirements will help achieve this important goal.

We understand that many states and other jurisdictions have already sought such an extension from the Justice Department, and many more, if not all, will be doing so in the coming months. 

Given these circumstances, we believe it would be prudent for you to grant a one-year extension for all states and other jurisdictions at this time, without requiring individual requests.

Please contact us if you have questions concerning this request, as we hope you can move quickly to grant this extension for all states so we can make further progress improving our nations’ sex offender registries. 

Sincerely,

PATRICK LEAHY                                        JOHN CONYERS, JR.

Chairman, U.S. Senate                                    Chairman, U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on the Judiciary                            Committee on the Judiciary       

ARLEN SPECTER                                        LAMAR SMITH

Ranking Member, U.S. Senate                       Ranking Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Senate Judiciary Committee                           Committee on the Judiciary 

cc: Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs

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