The Adam Walsh Act was an instant controversy in Nevada. As soon as state lawmakers adopted the federal sex offender legislation in 2007, lawyers drew up lawsuits that have kept it tied up in court to this day.
But all the debate between advocates and attorneys over whether the Walsh Act is legal or logical now seems for naught. In this economy, the real question is not whether the Walsh Act is constitutional, but whether it’s too expensive. By many calculations, it is.
Sex offender management boards in California and Colorado have recommended their states reject the Adam Walsh Act — which changes the way states track and monitor sex offenders — in part because of the crippling cost. Other states, including Florida, Iowa, Virginia and Texas, are also doing the math and finding that the federal standard seems more expensive to adopt than to ignore, no matter the penalty.
In Nevada, meeting the deadline could safeguard hundreds of thousands of dollars. But carrying out the provisions of the Walsh Act could cost millions.
Concerns now coming to light in these states were barely discussed in Nevada. Instead, issues with Walsh are being worked out in Nevada courts as a result of those lawsuits levied against the act.
One was filed by the Clark County Public Defender’s Office on the grounds that Walsh unfairly affects juveniles and the other by the Nevada ACLU on the grounds that the law violates due process rights and protection from retroactive punishment. Until these cases are resolved, the state has been barred from enforcing Walsh.
And with the future of Nevada sex offender laws in limbo, government agencies aren’t using their calculators. Why compute the cost of a program that may never come to be?
“This is an unfunded mandate,” the board’s chairwoman, Suzanne Brown-McBride said. “There are massive expectations of changes from federal legislation but really no attempt to significantly fund it.”
California, though, has a much higher population of sex offenders than Nevada. So perhaps a more apt comparison for Nevada is Virginia, where officials figured it would cost $12.4 million to carry out the Walsh regulations, or $400,000 not to. Or consider Florida: about $3.2 million for Walsh, versus a $2.1 million to $2.8 million penalty for missing the deadline, if not rejecting the sex offender legislation outright. Each state used its own formula, and each came up with the same answer: It would cost more to adopt than to ignore.
Not a single state — including the eight that adopted Walsh regulations — has been deemed “compliant” with the law. And noncompliance means a reduction in funding once the deadline passes.
And then there is the cost Nevada has paid, not to adopt Walsh, but to defend it. Cortez Masto’s office has spent months fighting Walsh challenges in court. The Clark County Public Defender has spent months fighting Cortez Masto. No matter who wins, the state has spent considerable amounts just arguing over it. This does not include the case filed by the Nevada ACLU, or the fact that the civil liberties organization won $145,000 in attorney fees from the state last month.