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Lawmakers consider amending sex offender law


Nevada’s controversial sex offender law was adopted to comply with a federal act in 2007 but remains in doubt.

A halt to its enforcement remains in effect, and several bills will be submitted to the Legislature during the 2015 session seeking to amend the law. At least one bill draft calls for the law’s repeal.

“We ended up with a law that doesn’t make sense for Nevada,” said Maggie McLetchie, an attorney representing a case that’s before the state Supreme Court that stems from the law. “We need the Legislature to fix the problems.”

In 2006, Congress approved the Adam Walsh Act as a guideline for state laws on sex crimes. The act was intended to toughen punishment for sex offenders and make their photos, names and addresses available to the public.

Nevada lawmakers in 2007 adopted most provisions of the federal law. The state law, proposed in Assembly Bill 579, was set to take effect Feb. 1, but the Nevada Supreme Court put a temporary stop to it following the January filing of a lawsuit with 24 unnamed plaintiffs.

McLetchie, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said there are at least three lawsuits involving the law.

She believes legislators recognize that there are problems with the law and said that the state should continue to delay enforcement until the Legislature fixes the problems.

Lawmakers need to resolve constitutional issues raised by the retroactive nature of the law and make it something that advances public safety, McLetchie said.

The state law applies to anyone convicted of a felony sex crime involving children and is retroactive to 1956.

There are about 3,000 registered sex offenders in Nevada, and that number is expected to dramatically increase under the law.

The Advisory Committee to Study Laws Concerning Sex Offender Registration met Thursday. Committee Chairman Keith Munro, assistant attorney general, said there has been a change in federal guidelines with regard to registration and community notification for juveniles.

Originally, it was mandatory to make public the registration of juveniles, but now it’s up to the states to decide what the most effective form of community notification is for minors.

The Nevada attorney general’s office is going to submit a bill next session with respect to those changes, Munro said. Since federal guidelines addressing juvenile registration and community notification have changed, he said, it might be good for state lawmakers to make the state law reflect the revisions.

The committee on Thursday heard a presentation by committee member Donna Coleman on how other states are handling the juvenile registration requirement. Of the four examples she provided from Colorado, Maryland, Tennessee and Wyoming, she said she liked Maryland’s the best.

Maryland has a mandatory registration for juveniles until the end of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.

At that point, there’s a hearing to deter­mine whether the registration needs to be extended and the juvenile’s information is not posted on a public website.

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, said she is developing a bill draft that addresses another problem with the law: It places all sex offenders in one category regardless of their crime.

For example, she said, someone who committed a minor crime such as urinating in public would be placed in the same category as someone who raped a child.

Her bill focuses on keeping three offense tiers separate based on the level of the crime, with Tier I being for minor crimes and Tier III being for “horrific” crimes.

“It’s really not OK to put a nonsex offense in such a category as Tier III,” she said.

Nevada state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he is also working on two bill drafts pertaining to the law.

One of the bill drafts is to end the process of applying the law to people who committed crimes as juveniles before 2007, he said. There might be an offender who committed a crime 40 years ago, and all of the sudden, he will be asked to register.

“My other bill basically eliminates Adam Walsh entirely and goes back to what the sex offender laws were back in 2007, which, quite frankly, worked well,” he said.

Coleman’s concern is that if a bill to replace the entire law goes to the Legislature and it doesn’t pass, then the state would have to enforce the current law with no changes to the portions that pertain to juveniles.

But Fiore said, “I don’t think anyone now has the appetite to post juveniles on a website.”

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.

 

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