COLUMBUS, Ohio — The federal government has ordered Ohio and 13 other states to make their Megan’s laws stronger or risk losing millions in grant money.
Making their laws consistent with the federal Megan’s Law is one of 17 requirements for states to receive a federal grant that pays for crime prevention and victims’ assistance programs in communities nationwide.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance notified the states in June that they would lose 10 percent of their annual grant beginning next year if they did not change their sex-offender registration laws by October. The National Criminal Justice Association, which is working with the states on the problem, said it is uncertain if any of the 14 met the deadline.
For Ohio, which receives about $19 million a year, the loss would be nearly $2 million.
“It might not seem like a lot, but communities are counting on this money for programs that have proven to be a success,” said Domingo Herraiz, director of the Ohio Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Sheriffs and police departments can use the money to pay for task forces, community policing efforts, victims’ advocacy projects or treatment programs for drug- and alcohol-addicted offenders.
All 50 states and the federal government have passed some type of sex-offender registration law since 1994 when 7-year-old Megan Kanka, was raped and murdered by a convicted sexual offender who lived near her family’s New Jersey home.
States had until last month to change their laws to require sex offenders to register with local authorities for life.
In some states, sexual offenders are required to register for only a certain length of time, not life, and can ask a court to terminate the registration order, which also is against the federal law.
“Some states have faced difficulty because their Legislatures didn’t want to change the law. For the most part, that’s been the problem,” said Cabell Cropper, executive director of the National Criminal Justice Association.
Besides Ohio, the states are Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
Virginia said it believes its law was already in compliance.
Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the state had made the necessary changes by the end of the legislative session in 1999. She said officials were trying to find out why the state is listed as non-compliant.
In Ohio, only offenders labeled sexual predators are required to register for life, and they can petition a court to throw out that designation. Habitual sexual offenders must register with authorities for 20 years, and sexually oriented offenders for 10 years.
Officials said the state is trying to round up support for the changes among lawmakers and sheriffs and has asked the government for more time.