Debate on Vetoed Bill Could Affect Sex Offenders Throughout Missouri
Controversy over a recently vetoed Missouri bill is causing debate throughout the state this week; it concerns a proposed change to Missouri sex offender laws that could potentially affect hundreds of registered sex offenders and set a new standard in registry requirements.
Earlier this morning, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon addressed local law enforcement officers in St. Louis and commented on the importance of upholding his veto on House Bill 301. According to Governor Nixon, passing HB 301 would weaken Missouri sex crime laws, as well as undermine public safety and victims' rights. Legislators in the House and Senate – as well as others throughout the general public – have expressed a desire to have Governor Nixon's veto overruled. An override to the veto will be pursued when legislators convene on September 11.
Governor Nixon had originally vetoed the bill in July after it had overwhelmingly passed the House with a 153-0 vote and the Senate with a 28-4 vote.
What is House Bill 301?
House Bill 301 is a piece of legislation that proposes to remove convicted sex offenders under the age of 18 from law enforcement websites that disclose their information, including their home address and physical description. Under the bill, adult offenders who are currently listed as sex offenders for sex crimes committed as minors would also be removed from the public registry five years after a conviction or a release from prison.
Pros & Cons of HB 301
Backers of the bill cite the overwhelming challenges convicted sex offenders face in regard to the public registry – particularly those who were committed of sexual offenses as minors for consensual sexual activities with younger juveniles. Proponents are voicing their concern over Governor Nixon's veto and their belief that these offenders deserve a second chance free from public scrutiny.
While the legislation passed the House and Senate with strong support (153-0 in the House and 28-4 in the Senate) others remain aggressively opposed – including Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. Governor Nixon vetoed the bill earlier this year, stating that it would present a danger to the public to remove sex offenders from the registry and that the bill failed to distinguish the difference between violent and non-violent sex crimes. Legislators will consider an override of Governor Nixon's veto when they reconvene in September.
How Many Sex Offenders Would Be Removed?
Although Governor Nixon's original estimate was that 560 registered offenders would be eligible to be removed from the registry, new figures show that the number is closer to 870. Currently, there are approximately 13,500 registered sex offenders in the state of Missouri. The public sex offender registry displays information about convicted sex offenders and is often one of the most devastating and difficult barriers sex offenders face after conviction.
Is There More at Stake than Public Safety?
As it has recently come to light from the U.S. Department of Justice, Missouri's proposed change to sex crime laws could potentially cost the state as much as 10 percent of federal funding.
Currently, the Missouri Department of Public Safety receives a large subsidy from the United States federal government. This year alone, Missouri received approximately $4.4 million dollars in funding under the Justice Assistance Grant Program. These funds were distributed by the state Department of Public Safety and covered far more than the enforcement of sex crime laws. According to the department's website, the grant was used to fund drug and gang task forces, drug rehabilitation and crime prevention programs, technology, and witness protection.
The problem with funding and the new law is that HB 301 violates a federal law that requires states to comply with national standards for sex offender registries. If legislators choose to override Governor Nixon's veto and pass the bill, Missouri will be in violation of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which requires all U.S. states to include the name of sex offenders age 14 and older on public registries. Violations can subject the state to a 10 percent cut of their Justice Assistance Grant.
What the Veto of HB 301 Tells Us About Missouri Sex Crimes
Governor Nixon's reluctance to pass HB 301 – and his efforts to explain the importance of upholding that veto – highlights just how serious Missouri reacts to sex crimes and how harshly the state punishes offenders. Sex crimes, of any type, are offenses surrounded by strong public opinion. As a result, this hostile atmosphere can make life extremely difficult for convicted offenders.
Although HB 301 is reactionary in that it plans to remove certain offenders – those who committed certain offenses as minors – it would create change for registry requirements in the future. Debate, however, still shows that there is much to be done before a final decision is reached.
Regardless of what happens to HB 301, those who stand accused of a sex crime in Missouri should do everything in their power to defend themselves and protect their future by working with an experienced Missouri sex crime lawyer from The Hammer Law Firm, LLC. Learn more about your case and how our St. Louis sex crime lawyers can help by contacting our firm or requesting a free case evaluation.