Archive for December, 2010
Florida child advocates are urging the state to consider an alternate source in order to fund the effort to track convicted sex offenders – sex offenders themselves.
“The typical child molester on our registry has had his victims in this state.” Says Titusville’s Donna Davis, “ When they grow up, those kids will begin paying taxes in Florida. That means every time victims pay sales taxes, property taxes and various fees, some small portion is paying to keep their perpetrator from doing it again.”
Davis is a board member with Protect Our Children, Inc. The group has asked Governor-Elect Rick Scott, to set up a committee tasked with designing a “pedotax” system for the Sunshine State. The Brevard County charity suggests a program that would benefit municipal police as well as county sheriffs.
In a letter dated November 5, the group outlined a paperless system by which offenders make regular deposits to a bank account. Clerks in cities and counties would make quarterly withdrawals for each offender in their jurisdiction.
The plan would allow municipalities to draw revenue if they have their own monitoring officer. “Having an officer in your town whose beat is comprised exclusively of sex offenders, is one of the best protections your children can have.” Says Mark Wigley, Executive Director of Protect Our Children, “ It is a powerful deterrent to sex criminals, knowing that down at the local cop shop, someone is keeping a light on, just for them.”
The City of Melbourne is the only municipality in Brevard to field a full-time, compliance officer. In place since 2005, the program narrowly missed the chopping block this year. The City Council considered dropping the program and farming out the compliance duties to regular patrol officers. In October, however, they relented and shifted the funds from other items in the budget.
Palm Bay, Melbourne’s neighbor to the South, ended its dedicated officer program in 2009 after a three-year run.
“We want to encourage payment, not discourage registration. “ says Mark Wigley, “We expect them to toe the line, but we also want them to help foot the bill!”. He said states and counties in the Southeast have already started to put the bite on registered offenders.
Indian River leads a pack of Florida counties requiring sex criminals to pony-up when they register with police. The tiny district on Florida’s East Coast, is dunning registrants $150 dollars per year. Their ordinance, passed unanimously in June 2009, takes aim at a prime reason for imposing the fee – the lack of funding: “Whereas neither the Sheriff nor the County receives funds from the State or Federal Government to defray the costs of administering registration programs required by law…”
The Adam Walsh Child protection act of 2006, compels all states to register sex offenders and notify citizens of their whereabouts. The mandate offers no funding to accomplish the task. Both, Lee and St. Lucie Counties now charge small processing fees to help cover their administrative costs.
Known for its hard line on sex offenders, the State of Georgia dropped their fee program in May, after a troubled, five-year run. Georgia had been tapping sex offenders for a $250 dollar annual fee since 2006. The failed experiment illustrates some of the pitfalls for states trying to squeeze revenue from pedophiles and rapists.
Georgia law-enforcement officials say the system lacked any real penalties for sex offenders who failed to pay. Registrants claiming indigence could request a hardship waiver from the local Sheriff. Sheriffs in turn, were inclined to grant the request since none of the funds remained in the county where they were collected.
“The funds need to come back to the law enforcement agency that monitors the offenders” said Tonia Welch, Director of Training for the Georgia Sheriff’s Association. She said Georgia’s law called for the money to be deposited in the State’s general fund: a fiscal Black Hole which returned none of the revenue to local police. In the end, the failure of the Georgia system may be due to a simple, human impulse, to refrain from putting ones cookies in someone else’s jar.
Sex offenders in the neighboring State of Louisiana shell out $60 –$120 dollars annually. Unlike the Georgia system, funds are retained by the Parish Sheriff who collects them. Offenders who fail to pay can be charged with a misdemeanor, but they are never barred from registering due to lack of funds.
“We would like to see a system that encourages payment without discouraging registration…”, says Mark Wigley. “A program of incremental periods of incarceration like the Child Support Enforcement Program is likely to work best for deadbeats. An inability to pay should not constitute a violation of the registration laws.”
Louisiana Sheriffs, like their counterparts in Florida, send a postcard to residents when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood. But unlike Florida, Louisiana offenders are handed a bill for the entire cost; including printing, postage and handling.
Advocates like the idea of a system which generates its own funding: “Although it’s unlikely sex offenders can be made to cover all the costs associated with tracking and notifying…” Donna Davis explains, “Converting to a system that is in part, self-financed, could help provide these protections for generations of Florida’s children.”
Governor-Elect Scott takes office in January.