Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From Nebraska - Sex-offender list too inclusive?

LINCOLN — Saying Nebraska's current sex-offender registry law unfairly punishes some minor offenders, a group of state senators wants to remove those offenders' pictures and addresses from a public list.

Supporters of the change include Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, typically a hard-liner on crime who has said sexual predators should be banished to a remote island because they can't be rehabilitated,

Yet Lautenbaugh said it's unfair to hang a “scarlet letter” on minor offenders whom the Nebraska State Patrol had deemed at low risk of reoffending and who haven't committed repeat crimes.

“I don't think we should ruin their lives,” Lautenbaugh said.

Sen. Brad Ashford, also of Omaha, said, “We have to balance punishment with fairness.”

Lautenbaugh, Ashford and Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln on Tuesday spoke in favor of changing state law after testimony last week during a public hearing before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

Some of those testifying, including people whose criminal offenses occurred as long as 16 years ago, said their families were harassed and shunned because of past mistakes. Their occupations and reputations face ruin, they said, because their faces and addresses are listed on the state's sex-offender website.

Prior to passage of Legislative Bill 285 in 2009, only the names of sex offenders deemed by the State Patrol as most likely to reoffend were publicized.

Those who had committed minor offenses and were considered at low risk of reoffending — a Level 1 offender — were required to register with law enforcement agencies, but their information wasn't made public.

LB 285 included Level 1 offenders in new reporting requirements. The state posted their photos and addresses on a website. The photos are to stay for as long as 25 years, and in some cases, for life.

Ashford is having an amendment drafted that would remove from the website Level 1 offenders who committed offenses prior to the enactment of LB 285 and have not reoffended.

Anyone who committed an offense after that date would still have to comply with the more rigorous reporting requirements, and would be subject to having his or her name and photo publicly posted, Ashford said.

Coash said he didn't realize LB 285 was to be retroactive.

Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, who sponsored LB 285, said he opposes any return to the old system of having the State Patrol assess a sex offender's potential for reoffending.

“I'm not sure there's any scientific method to guess the capability of a sex offender to reoffend going into the future,” Pirsch said.

Pirsch said he wanted to see any amendments before to deciding whether to support them.

A Nebraska group for convicted sex offenders and their families called Families Affirming Community Safety has lobbied and joined a federal lawsuit to get the current state law reversed.

Rigorous tracking of minor, low-risk offenders diverts attention from true sexual predators, the group says.

The Legislature passed LB 285 to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, a federal measure aimed at apprehending sex offenders. It was named for Adam Walsh, the son of “America's Most Wanted” host John Walsh, who was abducted and murdered in 1981.

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