n July 27, President Bush signed into law legislation (HR 4472) designed to strengthen federal registration requirements for convicted sex offenders. The bill also makes failing to register a federal crime and creates a national sex offender registry.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the bill "the most comprehensive child crimes and protection bill in our nation's history."
The legislation combines measures introduced last year by lawmakers in both chambers, and was prompted by a series of high-profile crimes by registered sex offenders. To speed passage of the sex offender provisions, the Senate removed provisions included in the House-passed version related to gang violence and court security.
The bill requires states to maintain an Internet sex offender registry that includes an offender's address, picture, vehicle, and facts of conviction. It also directs the Department of Justice to create a national sex offender Web site, and requires states to notify the federal government of any changes to a sex offender's registration information.
Failure to register as a sex offender will now be a federal felony. Offenders who fail to register or update their registration information would risk a possible ten-year prison term; if they commit a violent crime while registered, they would be subject to a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.
In addition, sex offenders will now be required to provide DNA samples, and will be subjected to more frequent in-person verification of information they provide regarding their residences and workplaces. If their workplace and residence differ, offenders would be required to register in each jurisdiction.
The legislation also broadens registration requirements for convicted sex offenders to include juveniles convicted of sex crimes and those convicted of misdemeanor sex offenses against minors.
The bill also establishes many new mandatory minimum sentences for crimes against children. Offenders convicted of causing serious bodily injury to a child or using a weapon to attack a child would be subject to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of ten years. Offenders would face a minimum of 30 years in prison for having sex with a child under 12 or sexually assaulting a child between 13 and 17.
Mandatory minimums will also be increased for coercing or enticing a child to have sex, transporting a child to engage in criminal sexual activity, sexual exploitation of a child, and sex trafficking of children.
The legislation also eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual offenses against a child and adds abuse and neglect of native American children as a federal criminal offense. It also amends immigration laws to make failure to register a deportable offense and prohibits convicted sex offenders from having family-based petitions approved.
The measure will direct the U.S. Marshals Service to apprehend unregistered sex offenders and create a new office within the Justice Department to monitor and track sex offenders.
In addition, the bill will authorize grants to help local law enforcement agencies to strengthen their registry systems.
To help combat Internet predators and online pornography, the measure sets up education grants and provides funding for 200 new federal prosecutors and 45 new computer forensic scientists to work on Internet sex crimes. In addition, the bill forms 10 task forces to deal with Internet crimes involving children. New regional Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforces will provide funding and training to help state and local law enforcement combat crimes involving the sexual exploitation of minors on the Internet.
IACP Opposes House-Passed Firearms Seizure Bill
On July 25, the House passed a bill (HR 5013) designed to guarantee that lawful gun owners would be allowed to keep their firearms during major disasters, such as hurricanes or following terrorist attacks.
The bill would prohibit federal, state, or local authorities, during the response to an emergency situation, from temporarily or permanently seizing any lawful firearm from citizens in the affected area. The limitations apply to federal law enforcement or military officers, along with local police that receive federal funds.
The bill also institutes a private cause of action against any agency or officer who seizes lawful weapons in an emergency situation. Consequently, law enforcement agencies and officers would be held personally liable if they mistakenly confiscate a lawful firearm during an emergency. Consequently, the IACP opposes this legislation.
The bill was amended before passage to address concerns raised during the markup in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The substitute language clarifies that the bill would not force a rescue worker to allow a lawfully possessed firearm onboard a rescue vehicle, such as a boat or helicopter.
It also specifies that the bill would not supersede existing state and local prohibitions. Some lawmakers had expressed concerns that the bill would trump tougher state or local laws.
An amendment containing similar language was passed by the Senate during consideration of the FY 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill (HR 5441).
Opponents, including the IACP, argued that the bill could make it harder for law enforcement officials to maintain order during a crisis. For example, the bill would prevent police from picking up guns that could be seized by looters and would also prevent state or local governments from prohibiting individuals from bringing firearms into emergency shelters.
Proponents of the bill maintain that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement officers in Louisiana confiscated firearms from law-abiding gun owners. However, New Orleans law enforcement officials defended their actions, saying very few guns were confiscated and that widespread disarming did not occur.
Proponents of the bill recently announced that they were launching a nationwide campaign demanding that police chiefs and mayors pledge never to confiscate weapons from law-abiding citizens in the wake of disasters such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
In response to this effort, the IACP Executive Committee approved a statement outlining the association's opposition to the pledge campaign and the IACP's opposition to a series of firearms-related bills, which would significantly degrade law enforcement's ability to combat the illegal use of guns and illegal firearms trafficking.
For a copy of the IACP's statement on the Gun Confiscation Pledge Campaign, please visit the IACP Web site at (www.theiacp.org). ■