Illinois Senate Approves $20,000,000 Expansion of Sex Offender Registry

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Illinois Voices for Reform, Inc. joins other organizations in opposing Senate Bill 3359, a bill designed to bring Illinois into compliance with the Federal Adam Walsh Act. Opponents argue costs far outweigh the benefits.

After an impassioned speech by State Senator William Haine (D), the Illinois Senate last week voted to advance Senate Bill 3359. The bill attempts to bring Illinois into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed by congress in 2006 and would make Illinois one of only 16 states opting to comply with the Act. Senator Kwame Raoul (D) argued against the bill, stating that the costs of implementing the bill far outweigh the benefits, and arguing that Illinois laws are already among the toughest in the nation. He told the Senate, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In response, Senator Haine, the bill’s sponsor, drew on emotions by evoking the memory of Adam Walsh, the young boy after whom the bill was named. Haine told the Senate that this bill was needed to protect children like Adam Walsh. According to an ABC News report in 2008 (http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=6471791&page=1#.T4Mal_tSTY8), Walsh’s murderer, Ottis Toole, was not a convicted sex offender and his death was never linked to any sexual offense. Despite this, Haine’s speech nonetheless convinced Senators to vote in favor of the bill, which passed 37-11.

Since its passage in 2006, the Adam Walsh Act has come under fire as an unfunded mandate that requires states to expend unprecedented resources in order to meet the stringent requirements set forth by the federal government. Sponsors of SB3359 argued that failure to comply would result in a 10% reduction in states’ Byrne Grant allotment, which translates into a potential loss of about $1.5 million annually for Illinois. At the same time, the Justice Policy Institute estimated that the initial cost for Illinois to comply with the Adam Walsh Act would soar to over $20 million. The Illinois Department of Corrections has stated that the costs of compliance would be “substantial as more sex offender registration violations occur.”

The controversy surrounding the Adam Walsh Act has prompted a number of states to defy the federal government, opting to accept the reduction in the Byrne Grant money instead of spending many times that amount in order to comply. The State of New York, however, publically refused to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, yet was able to retain its full Byrne Grant allotment simply by highlighting its current sex offender legislation. New York joined several other states, including Texas and California, in rejecting the federal government’s mandate.

The Illinois House must now consider the difficulty faced by those states that have attempted to enact their own version of SB3359. The state of Ohio recently announced that it spent millions of dollars in its attempt to become compliant with the Adam Walsh Act, but also spent many millions more defending over 7,000 lawsuits filed against the legislation. Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Ohio law went far beyond the intent of the original sex offender registration laws and clearly crossed the line between community safety and punishment. The Court ruled that the Ohio law was unconstitutional and could not be applied retroactively.

While every politician fears being perceived as “soft on crime,” members of the Illinois House will need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of SB3359, considering over a decade worth of research that clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of restrictive sex offender legislation. The House must decide if it wants to spend millions of dollars to promote legislation that will essentially accomplish nothing more than bringing Illinois into compliance with a federal mandate that has already been soundly rejected by other states, many of which have a reputation for being “tough on crime.”

About Illinois Voices
Illinois Voices for Reform, Inc. is a not for profit organization dedicated to the belief that education and empirical research should guide legislative efforts to protect society and reduce sexual assaults. More information about Illinois Voices can be found by visiting their website at http://www.ilvoices.com or by sending an email to info (at) ilvoices (dot) com

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Tonia Maloney
Illinois Voices
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