Jul 20 2006
Legislation would improve nationwide sex offender database, toughen national registration standards and penalties
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called for immediate passage of bipartisan legislation to strengthen laws protecting children from sex offenders. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act would link state tracking systems and improve the national sex offender database to prevent sex offenders from escaping tracking systems through a move to another state. The bill, expected to pass the Senate Thursday night, would also put in place stronger, nationwide registration standards, and provide additional tools to law enforcement officers working to keep our communities safe. In remarks delivered on the Senate floor Thursday, Cantwell highlighted the local tragedy of the Groene family, and the crimes committed against them by a known sex offender who escaped lax state tracking systems.
“We can’t bring children like Dylan Groene back, but we can make sure what happened to him and his sister never happens again,” said Cantwell. “Our communities need better information about sex offenders in our neighborhoods, which is exactly what this will do. A comprehensive national database will help close blatant gaps between federal and state sex offender registration and notification programs, and will help local law enforcement keep our children safe. Tougher punishments are also critical if we’re going to prevent tragic consequences.”
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act has already passed the House and would expand the scope and duration of sex offender registration and notification requirements, and, through a comprehensive zip code-based searchable internet database, would make sure citizens always have access to accurate and up-to-date information about sex offenders in or near their community.
“Better registration and databases can prevent tragedies like the horrific story of the Northwest’s Groene family” said Cantwell. “The known sex offender who committed these terrible crimes was able to escape notice because of gaps between state notification systems.”
Current databases operate on a state-by-state basis, which can hinder coordination and prevents information on all sex offenders from appearing in one place. In addition, many states currently have inadequate measures in place to ensure up-to-date and accurate information, meaning that the current national registry today is poorly coordinated and full of out-of-date listings. The nationwide database called for in this legislation would track all sex offenders’ addresses, employment, vehicles, and criminal history, as well as photos and identification information.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act also increases penalties for violent sex crimes committed against children, and requires that sex offenders register prior to release from prison or supervised programs. Current federal law requires registration after release. Offenders who do not face prison time would have to register within three days of sentencing.
The legislation would also require level III sex offenders—the most serious offenders—to register in person at a state designated office every three months and remain on the registry for life. Level two offenders would have to register in person every six months and remain on the registry for 25 years. Level I offenders—the least serious—would have to register in person once each year and remain on the registry for 15 years. Any offender who fails to register or update information would face a penalty of 10 years in prison.
[Cantwell’s remarks on the Senate floor as prepared for delivery]
Mr. President I rise to speak about the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Last June, the entire nation was horrified by the kidnapping and murders of the Groene family and the tragic crimes visited upon little Shasta Groene.
Joseph Duncan was a convicted sex offender who beat Brenda Groene; her 13-year-old son, Slade; and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie to death.
Their bodies were found in their home in Idaho on May 16, 2005. The killings captured national headlines and prompted a massive search for two other Groene children, 8-year-old Shasta and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan.
Six weeks later, on July 2, restaurant workers in Idaho recognized the girl with Duncan and called police. Dylan's remains were found in western Montana.
This did NOT have to happen.
In 1980, Duncan was convicted of rape in Washington state. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and began his sentence in a treatment program.
After he was terminated from the program, he served his sentence in prison until he was released on parole in 1994. In 2000, he moved to Fargo where he registered with North Dakota's sex offender registry.
Before long, he had moved again both North Dakota and Washington state registries lost track of him.
In April of 2005, a Minnesota judge released Duncan on bail after he had been charged with molestation.
Duncan promptly skipped town.
Minnesota issued a warrant for his arrest that May because he had not registered as a sex offender there, as required by law.
But it was too late. On May 16 the Groene family was found dead and it wasn’t until July 2 that Shasta was recovered.
Joseph Duncan was essentially lost by three states. He moved from state-to-state to avoid capture.
No one knew where he was even if they knew to be looking for him.
I say again, this did not have to happen.
There is no worse crime than a crime against a child.
One crime against a child is too many.
That’s why I have cosponsored the Child Protection and Safety Act.
We need better information.
We need a better system to keep that information accurate.
And we need better standards to keep the system from breaking down when we most need it. The Senate must pass this bipartisan legislation.
To improve the national sex offender database.
To link state tracking systems.
And to prevent sex offenders from escaping tracking systems by moving to another state.
Today, there is far too much disparity among state registration requirements and notification obligations for sex offenders. Yes there is a National Registry already.
But it’s based on often out-of-date listings from all 50 states.
Worse – there’s currently no incentive for offenders to provide accurate info further undermining the system.
Child sex offenders have exploited this stunning lack of uniformity and the consequences have been tragic.
20 percent of the nation’s 560,000 sex offenders are “lost” because state sex offender registry programs are not coordinated well enough.
We take these numbers very seriously in my state. In Washington state, we have 19,144 registered sex and kidnapping offenders.
More than 2,900 Washingtonians are currently incarcerated for sex crimes. This spring our state passed a tough new law mandating that sex offenders from other states must register with authorities within three days upon moving to Washington. Under previous law, there was a 30 day grace period.
We also established minimum sentences for certain sex crimes and tougher registration rules.
And back in 1990, we were the first state to enact a sexual predator involuntary commitment law.
Today, these sexual predators are housed on McNeil Island where they cannot hurt our kids.
Here’s what I know.
Local law enforcement need the tools and information to do defend our children.
We need to close the gaps between federal and state sex offender registration and notification programs.
Every state needs to update one another and the National Registry in real time.
And we need to recognize that tough punishments today, prevent terrible costs tomorrow.
We must keep our communities safe.
The Senate must act today.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act creates a National Sex Offender Registry.
It creates long-overdue nationwide registration standards.
It delivers strong, practical tools for law enforcement officers.
The new Registry will expand the scope and duration of offender registration and notification requirements.
It will keep track of all sex offender identification, address, employment, vehicle and related information.
The bill also creates the new Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Website so every American can stay informed.
Now the public will be able to search for sex offender information by geographic radius and zip code.
The bill also increases penalties for violent sex crimes committed against children.
And it requires that sex offenders register prior to release from prison or supervised programs.
Mr. President, we need this bill.
We need to help law enforcement officials protect our communities and our families.
Let’s give them the information and the resources they need to get tough with sex offenders.
Let’s pass the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act right now.