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Governor vetoes changes to juvenile sex offender law

Juvenile justice advocates sounded an alarm Thursday after Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill that would have revised the state’s controversial sex offender registration law regarding juveniles.

The changes would have granted courts wider discretion in deciding whether registration and community notification were necessary in cases of young sex offenders.

“This is horrific. I’m just devastated,” said Susan Roske, an attorney with Clark County’s juvenile public defender’s office. “I just pray that Gov. Sandoval holds a special session to fix this.”

Sandoval vetoed Senate Bill 99 Wednesday, citing concerns that the legislation would remove a prohibition in the state’s version of the federal Adam Walsh Act that states Tier III sex offenders cannot be within 500 feet of a place where children are.

“While Senate Bill 99 proposes amendments to the Adam Walsh Act, which have merit, the removal of this important prohibition undermines confidence that this legislation will ensure greater protection of Nevada’s children,” Sandoval said in his veto letter to the Nevada secretary of state’s office.

The measure would have revised provisions governing registration and community notification of juveniles who commit sex offenses. It would give courts the option to decide on a case-by-case basis if registration and community notification are appropriate for juveniles, said Nevada Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, the bill’s main sponsor.

The changes also would have given the courts discretion to relieve the obligation of registration and community notification when juveniles reach the age of 21 and can prove to the satisfaction of the court that they have been rehabilitated.

Other changes would have addressed the supervision of adult offenders released from prison.

“This was a well-thought-out proposal and this is very disconcerting,” Segerblom said of Sandoval’s decision to veto the bill. “It really was just a shocker.”

Donna Coleman, a member of the committee that has been evaluating the law for the past eight years for the state attorney general’s office, was shocked when she learned of the veto through a reporter.

“Obviously, he didn’t understand what he did,” she said. “He just condemned juveniles who are low-level sex offenders with a ‘Scarlet Letter’ on their head.”

The existing law, which hasn’t been enforced, would require many offenders judges have deemed not dangerous — including some as young as 14 when they committed a sex crime — to make their names, photos and addresses available to the public. Since Nevada legislators approved the law in 2007, pieces of it have gone before courts from the district to federal levels.

The measure was to take effect Feb. 1, 2014, but the Nevada Supreme Court put a temporary stop to it after a lawsuit filed by Las Vegas firm Langford McLetchie on behalf of 24 unnamed clients. The suit was filed Jan. 16, 2014 in Clark County District Court to stop enforcement of the law, but the request was rejected 12 days later by Judge Douglas Smith. So the matter went to the state’s high court.

Maggie McLetchie, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said they are waiting for an oral argument to be scheduled. It’s unknown when that could be scheduled. The the court would then issue a decision. McLetchie also represents the Review-Journal in public records issues.

Among the questions to be considered are whether it is constitutional for sex offenders who already have served their court-ordered time to have the rules changed retroactively and whether Nevada legislators overlooked public safety in passing this law.

The law applies to anyone convicted of a felony sex crime or crimes involving children since 1956.

“The state of Nevada is in a terrible position,” she said Thursday. “If the state of Nevada has to enforce this, the real loss is going to be for the public at large because they are not going to be safer.”

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