Wyo. legislative panel backs sex offender law change

2010-11-12T23:15:00Z 2010-11-12T23:33:29Z Wyo. legislative panel backs sex offender law change

By JOSHUA WOLFSON

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
November 12, 2010 11:15 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Teenagers who commit certain violent sex crimes would be required to register as sex offenders under a bill endorsed Friday by a Wyoming legislative committee.

Neighbors, schools and law enforcement would be notified of a registered teenager's sex-offender status. However, juveniles would be kept off the state's online registry.

Juvenile criminal cases are normally kept private. During its meeting in Casper, the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee debated the best way to maintain some level of confidentiality for young offenders while still protecting the community.

“I'm so torn on this,” said Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson. “I want to know about the kid to protect my kid, but at the same time, how does that kid get on with his life if everyone knows about him and they tease him about it and bully him in some manner ... and the defendant becomes the victim?”

Sen. Kathryn Sessions, D-Cheyenne, said there were instances in which notifying people about a young offender would be necessary to protect other, more vulnerable children.

“I know there are a lot of bad actors out there,” she said. “And I will fight like the devil for their chance to come back into society and do something that is the right thing to do. But ... somebody ought to know about what that kid has chosen to do. And I think it is a fine line to walk.”

Only teenagers 14 and older would be required to register.

The bill, which will be sponsored by the committee in the upcoming legislative session, would make several changes to the state's sex offender law. It's designed to bring Wyoming into compliance with national guidelines for sex offender registration.

If the state remains out of compliance, it would receive less federal grant money that's used for law enforcement.

Wyoming currently does not require juveniles to register as sex offenders.

Under the bill approved by the committee, neighbors living within 750 feet of certain juvenile offenders, as well as school administrators and youth organizations, would be informed of their status.

The committee also voted to require adult sex offenders to provide the addresses of their employers for the online registry. Although there was concern that listing addresses would discourage employers from hiring sex offenders, the committee was told leaving them off would lead to less federal grant money.

Lawmakers did eliminate other proposed revisions after learning those changes wouldn't affect federal funding. These included a proposal to require sex offenders sentenced before 1985 to register with authorities.

Only four states are currently in compliance with federal guidelines specified in the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several states have chosen not to comply with the guidelines because the costs of implementing them were greater than the reduction in grant funding.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at josh.wolfson@trib.com or 307-266-0582.

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