LINCOLN — Nebraska just found out it will lose $163,000 in federal funds for failing to comply with a federal sex-offender registry law.
It is among 35 states, including Iowa, that have fallen short in implementing the provisions of the national Adam Walsh Act.
But like officials in many of those other noncompliant states, two Nebraska lawmakers said they're not sweating the loss of funds because the cost and changes that are required to comply with the federal mandate were just too much.
"For the money we're losing, it's just not worth it," said State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, adding that other states have realized that, too.
Both Ashford and Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln said Tuesday that Nebraska ought to consider returning to its old system of dealing with convicted sex offenders or shifting to a tougher version of it.
"I think there's a hybrid approach, based on Nebraska's experience, that would be preferable to the federal one-size-fits-all system," Ashford said.
Before 2009, Nebraska's public sex-offender website listed only those sex offenders convicted of felonies who were deemed most likely to reoffend. Other less-dangerous offenders were not publicly listed, although local law enforcement and school officials were informed of where they lived.
In an attempt to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, Nebraska lawmakers dramatically changed the registry requirements.
All sex offenders, regardless of risk of reoffending, are now listed on the State Patrol's website. Their names remain there anywhere from 15 years to life, depending on the severity of their offense.
And offenders must personally report their address and movements to law enforcement offices, which has required more work for such offices.
That is similar to the sex offender registry law in Iowa, where the state has lost about $200,000 in federal funds for local drug enforcement task forces because of noncompliance.
In Nebraska, the new law has led to a wave of complaints from offenders who have moved on with their lives and have established careers and families.
They maintain that the public humiliation of being listed on the website is an unfair double punishment for themselves and their families for crimes they've already paid for through jail time or probation sentences. Some men told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee last year that being added to the public list threatened to ruin their jobs and businesses and had caused neighbors to shun them and their children.
Some law officers told the committee that providing staff to handle the personal visits from offenders required by the Adam Walsh Act cost too much for what it was worth, although some officials also said it was not a big deal.
McGill, a member of the committee, said she has no trouble getting tough on "true pedophiles" but thinks Nebraska's registry law should treat differently the offenders who had relatively minor crimes, paid their debt to society and don't appear to pose any risk to society.
"We should be worrying about those most likely to reoffend," McGill said, not those who don't pose a risk.
Nebraska was deemed noncompliant with the Adam Walsh Act because legislators declined to include young people — adjudicated of sex offenses in juvenile court — on the offender registry.
Ashford said the focus of juvenile court is rehabilitation, not punishment, and that it was problematic to include juveniles who were found responsible for offenses deemed not serious enough for prosecution in adult court.
Gov. Dave Heineman, in a recent letter to the Judiciary Committee, appeared to agree with that logic, saying the way juvenile offenders are treated "can have very serious and long-term consequences to the successful rehabilitation." The governor, though, offered his help if legislators chose to seek compliance with the federal mandate.
Both McGill and Ashford said they don't plan to seek compliance. Nor will they seek a major change this year in Nebraska's registry law.
Ashford said the 60-day session is too short to deal with the issue, which is complicated as well as politically charged.
McGill said she doesn't sense the "political will" this year to return to Nebraska's old registry law.
Instead, she proposed a minor change Tuesday that would provide some leniency for "Romeo and Juliet" cases.
Her Legislative Bill 914 would allow sex offenders who were 20 years old and whose victims were 15 to ask the State Patrol to reduce the length of time they are listed on the public registry from 25 years to 10 years, if the sex was consensual. McGill said such cases ought to be treated differently from a teen who molests an infant.
The bill would not affect sentences for statutory rape but would expand who could seek a short stay on the public registry in cases where the sex was consensual. Currently, statutory rape involves offenders who are 19 or older and victims who are younger than 16.
Nationally, some states are pressing Congress to relax the requirements of the Adam Walsh Act so they can comply.
At least one Nebraska lawmaker said he doesn't see a need for radical changes in the act at this point.
Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, who introduced the bill that changed the Nebraska sex-offender registry act, said the old act was "deplorable" and only purported to protect public safety. Pirsch said it would be a mistake to return to a system that tried to "prognosticate" whether a sex offender would reoffend.
"There's no scientific way to predict what a convicted sex offender is capable of in the future. It didn't pass the smell test," he said.
Contact the writer: