Upgrade sex-offender law or lose part of grant, Md. told

November 03, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Maryland risks losing about $1 million in federal crime-fighting dollars unless it broadens its sex-offender registration law, the U.S. Justice Department says.

State officials say they expect to take action before any of the grant money is lost.

"We do believe we are in compliance with the law. However, we also believe this will be solved in this General Assembly session - in time to convince the Department of Justice not to impose any penalty," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The 90-day session begins in early January.

At issue is a federal requirement that twice-convicted sex offenders - even those whose crimes were committed years ago in another state - must register their names and addresses with local authorities for life.

Maryland already mandates that sex offenders with two convictions, or those convicted of a single, violent sexual crime, must register for life with state authorities. A list of those registered is soon to be available on the Internet.

But the Justice Department, in a letter received yesterday by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said the state's law doesn't clearly mandate lifetime registration for those who are initially convicted outside the state and then are convicted of a sex crime in Maryland.

To avoid being penalized, Maryland must also clarify that lifetime registration applies to people whose convictions occurred before Congress mandated the registrations starting in 1995, according to the letter from the department's Bureau of Justice Assistance in Washington.

Under federal law, the state could lose 10 percent of its roughly $10-million, anti-crime grant if it fails to act. The letter said such a reduction would take effect during the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1 - the date by which Maryland was supposed to comply.

The laws passed by Congress are known collectively as "Megan's Law" - named for Megan Kanka, 7, a New Jersey child who was raped and murdered by a pedophile neighbor. Under Maryland's version, local law enforcement officials may notify community associations, schools and area youth groups that a sex offender is living in the neighborhood.

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