Changes to Missouri's sex offender registry could cost state thousands in federal funding

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | 9:41 p.m. CDT; updated 11:58 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 28, 2013

COLUMBIA — Changes to Missouri's sex offender registry law could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding. 

According to the Department of Justice, Missouri could lose 10 percent of its federal funding under the Justice Assistance Grant Program if the General Assembly passes House Bill 301. 

The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler, R.-Ste. Genevieve, would remove the names of juvenile sex offenders from the public website and allow qualifying offenders to have their names deleted from the registry. Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed the bill, saying that it poses a public safety risk because it doesn't differentiate between violent and nonviolent offenders. 

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has said that he and his colleagues will attempt to override the governor's veto when legislators reconvene in September. 

Nixon's press secretary declined to comment on the possible loss of federal funding, and Engler also declined to comment. Jones did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. 

If the governor's veto is overridden, Missouri's sex offender registry law could violate the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which established national standards for states' sex offender registries. 

Among the requirements of the federal law, passed in 2006, is that states include the names of all sex offenders age 14 and up or suffer a 10 percent cut to their Justice Assistance Grant. That program allocates money to state and local law enforcement agencies. Missouri is one of 16 states that complies with the law.

If Missouri is found to be in violation of the law, the Missouri Department of Public Safety could lose 10 percent of its total funding. With 2013 as a benchmark, that would be more than $400,000. This year, Missouri received $4.4 million in funding that could be affected by the 10 percent cut. That money was put toward drug and gang task forces, crime prevention programs, drug treatment, technology upgrades and witness protection, according to the department's website.

The amount of money received under the grant program varies annually because it's calculated according to a formula of crime statistics gathered by the Department of Justice. But on average, Missouri has received more than $5 million annually over the past nine years. 

Scott Matson, a senior policy adviser for the Department of Justice's Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking, said the Justice Department would determine whether to revoke Missouri's funding after the bill has been finalized. 

"If the bill removes juveniles from the registration process,then it is a serious likelihood," Matson said. 

Rep. Dave Hinson, R.-St. Clair, who voted for the bill in May, said he was not going to let the loss of federal funds sway his vote and that any loss in federal funding would be made up by the state. 

"I think this is good policy over what the federal policy does," he said. "That is why only 16 states are compliant with the law."

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