HOUSTON – Texas is one of five states to shun a national sex offender registry created in 2006, citing cost concerns.
The Houston Chronicle reported Saturday that officials say it would take an estimated $38 million to modify the state's existing registry program. Therefore, the state is willing to risk losing about $1.4 million in grant money to help local agencies enforce the law, they say.
"We couldn't afford the national program," Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, told the newspaper.
Members of the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee made the decision to not participate in the registry following an interim meeting two years ago. Local law enforcement officials have testified that complying with the program would add more sex offenders to the state's already extensive registry.
Nearly three dozen states have failed to meet all conditions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act because of concerns about how it works and how much it costs. Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, California and Nebraska have not taken part in the national registry.
About 70,000 sex offenders were registered in Texas as of August, according to the state Department of Criminal Justice.
The Adam Walsh law, named for a boy who was kidnapped from a Florida mall and killed in 1981, aimed to create a uniform way to register and track sex offenders around the country. But since its creation, many states realized they would have to overhaul their sex offender registration programs to comply, according to the Chronicle.
States were required to comply by 2009, but the U.S. attorney general offered an extension until July 2011 after many objected to a requirement that all juveniles 14 and older who had committed aggravated sexual assaults register for 25 years.
The penalty for not complying is losing 10 percent of grant funding given to law enforcement agencies for crime prevention. But states not honoring the law still have the option to reapply for withheld money. Meanwhile, 29 states that are in partial compliance have asked to have their withheld money released to help them meet conditions of the law, the Chronicle reported.
The newspaper says Texas juveniles are required to register for 10 years after they leave the juvenile system. The state, however, gives judges discretion to waive or remove a juvenile from the registry. They also can defer a decision until after the juvenile successfully completes therapy.
Those options would be removed under the federal law, according to the Chronicle.
Also, to comply, Texas would have to add certain offenses that require registration under the federal law. The state also would have to eliminate its use assessment to determine each offender's risk to the community. Currently, offenders are registered as low, moderate or high risk.
Proponents of the federal law had hoped it would reduce the risk that states with less-strict registration could become havens for sex offenders.
Whitmire told the Chronicle that Texas' system is effective, but said lawmakers will need to figure out how to ensure that only the most dangerous offenders are on the list. Many offenders are registered because they had consensual sex with a minor, he said.