Lawmakers change sex offender registry rules; ACLU opposes

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LANSING — The Legislature approved changes last week to Michigan’s sex offender registry after federal courts declared the current policy unconstitutional.

The new rules, approved by the Senate on Wednesday, would change aspects of registering and eliminate bans on living or being within 1,000 feet of schools. It also would give an offender seven days to register upon conviction.

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland had ruled that some changes in the current registry law made in the last two decades were too vague or impossible to enforce and therefore unconstitutional. A federal appeals court in 2016 said Michigan was treating people as “moral lepers” by imposing excessive restrictions.

In 2006, the state prohibited those on the registry from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of school property. In 2011, the state approved a requirement for registrants to immediately report changes in addresses, vehicles and phone numbers.

Cleland said lawmakers had to change the law this year in order to have an enforceable registry.

Since the judge’s February decision, officers were advised not to take enforcement action for certain violations involving the registry and school safety zones, said Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner.

The legislation would require offenders to report changes in phone numbers and vehicles to authorities. Those convicted after July 1, 2011, would be required to report all online communication or social media handles, which would be listed on the registry.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which sued over the registry, is urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to veto the legislation. The ACLU said it gives people on the registry a one-size-fits-all consequence to a wide variety of charges and fails to support survivors of sexual violence.

Those convicted of crimes typically serve a sentence and move toward a more productive life, said ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman. But those on the registry, she said, are demonized for life.

In 2019, Michigan had the fourth-highest number of registered sex offenders in the U.S. at 40,367, according to SafeHome.org. The ACLU estimates that number increased to 44,000 this year.

Aukerman said the registry is counterproductive and fails to prevent repeat offenses.

“What this bill does is it supports a failed policy and that takes the pain of survivors and exploits that pain to come with policies that we know don’t work, that actually make us less safe, rather than doing the hard work, the real work of investing in prevention programs and services that actually make a difference,” Aukerman said.

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