The New York Times’ Monica Davey and Abby Goodnough have a really good piece today on states unable to implement a strict new federal law on sex offender registration. In 2005, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act. It was named after an abducted child, whose father John Walsh, is host of the TV showAmerica’s Most Wanted. The law made it a federal felony for someone registered in one state as a sex offender to move to another state and not re-register as a sex offender. It also made a whole class of sex offenders register as sex offenders for life– four times each year.
Sexual predators are a serious problem, but it’s hard not to see this law as a “protect our children” photo-op for Congress. Whatever the law’s motivations, it’s turned out to be a bureaucratic nightmare for both the Justice Dept. and state governments to make it work. There is a compliance deadline for July, which no state is expected to meet. Part of the reason is money. California, for example, has estimated that if it did comply the cost would more than $38 million.
It’s cliche, but running a government is not about which point of view sounds best in a sound-bite (“Let’s make these monsters pay”), but whether Congress and federal agencies can make smart decisions that are vindicated over time (“These people are criminals, but maybe we shouldn’t spend so much time and money publicizing their misdeeds every step of their lives”). Davey and Goodnough provide an excellent example of where politics came before policy.-MB