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Attorney General Lockyer Expresses Disappointment about Failure of Bill Extending Megan's Law
Public Access to Information About Sex Offenders Expires at End of 2003
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today said he was disappointed and frustrated that the California Assembly failed to pass AB 1313 by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, an important bill that would have extended Megan's Law through January 1, 2007, and authorized college and university police to notify campus communities about registered sex offenders who go to class, live or work on community college, college or university campuses.
"This bill was crucial to allow the thousands of Californians who have used this valuable tool since 1996 to continue to obtain information that allows them to better protect their children and loved ones from dangerous sexual predators," Lockyer said. "The Department of Justice has taken aggressive steps to ensure that information on 81,000 serious and high-risk sex offenders is the most accurate and up-to-date information possible, and we will continue to help local law enforcement agencies identify and track down sex offenders who fail to register with local police and sheriffs."
Lockyer said he will take the lead in convincing lawmakers when they return in January or before, if a special session is called, to enact urgency legislation to provide public access to the Megan's Law system. In the meantime, he will continue to fight to extend that information to the Internet, and make improvements to California's Sex Offender Registry, which has been in place since 1947, and provides updated information to law enforcement agencies regarding the whereabouts of 100,000 sex offenders registered in California. Information on less than 20,000 of those sex offenders, who are categorized as lower-level offenders, has never been available to the public.
The failure of AB 1313, which garnered only 51 of the 54 votes needed to go into effect immediately, prohibits the public, starting January 1, 2004, from accessing the Megan's Law database available at all Sheriff's Offices, and at police departments in cities with populations of more than 200,000 residents. The Department of Justice also will be prohibited from setting up Megan's Law viewing booths at the California State Fair and selected county fairs throughout the state after December 31.
AB 1313, co-sponsored by the Attorney General and the governor's Office of Criminal Justice Planning, also would have authorized campus police to provide access to information about sex offenders living, working or attending classes at community colleges, colleges and universities. Federal law requires all states have the campus notification in place by October 1; California stands to lose about $5.1 million in federal funding if it fails to meet that mandate.
Lockyer said a portion of the Penal Code that is not affected by the December 31 expiration date still allows local police and sheriffs to continue notifying citizens of serious and high-risk sex offenders they believe pose a danger to that community. Such "pro-active" notifications may include knocking on doors and posting flyers in public. Officers may share information similar to that on the public Megan's Law system database, including photos, names, aliases, identifying scars or tattoos, gender, race, age and the offense committed that requires registration. Actual home addressees that have been verified also may be publicly disclosed.
About one in four sex offenders (21,000 of 81,000) on the public, Megan's Law portion of the state Sex Offender Registry, are in violation of registration laws. Nationally, the non-compliance rate is a comparable 24 percent. Florida, which only has 25,000 registered sex offenders, reportedly has a 20 percent non-compliance rate.
Since January, the Attorney General has directed the Department of Justice to work with other state and national agencies to update information on sex offenders who have failed to register with local law enforcement agencies, as required by law. As a result, the number of sex offenders in the state Sex Offender Registry with outdated information on file has dropped from 33,190 in January, to 25,700 in September. Among the improvements implemented during the past two years, the Department of Justice currently:
Provides automatic, electronic notification to affected local law enforcement agencies when it obtains new information about registered sex offenders;
Automatically sends an electronic notification to local agencies when a sex offender fails to register;
Searches governmental and public databases for information to determine if registered sex offenders have died, been deported, moved out of state or been re-incarcerated;
Identifies sex offenders whose parole or probation may be revoked because of registration violations.
The Department of Justice also created a program that automatically flags affected law enforcement agencies whenever a sex offender provides a new address when registering a vehicle or obtaining a driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.