Michigan lifts some restrictions on sex offenders. Will judge order more to be done?

Posted at 6:08 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 18:17:50-05

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — A new bipartisan bill passed by the legislature and the governor lifts some restrictions in the State’s Sex Offender Registry Act.

The lifting of restrictions is resulting in criticism that might surprise you. They are being accused by some of being too hard on those on the registry.

To understand why, you have to understand why the changes are being made. They are not necessarily what lawmakers wanted to do. They come after federal court orders.

A federal judge ruled that parts of Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act are unconstitutional. Detroit U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland told lawmakers if you don’t fix the law, parts of it would no longer be enforceable under the law.

On Tuesday Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-Michigan) signed a bill that the lawmaker who sponsored it, Representative James Lower (R-Greenville) testified Lansing aims to ease enough restrictions to save the registry.

Taking a look at some of the changes, before offenders on the registry remained on the registry even if their crime was expunged. That changes under the new law.

It also gets rid of a law banning people on the registry from living within 1000 feet of a school. The court had said that left many with no where live in some communities amounting to “the ancient punishment of banishment”.

While it eases some requirements of the registry, advocates for sex crime survivors the changes actually make the registry stronger.

“It was an unconstitutional statute, so there had to be changes in order for Michigan to have a sex offender registry. So in that regard, what the legislature did was simply take the prescriptions from the court and say okay what do we have to do to make this constitutional? And then they implemented those requirements,” said Sarah Rennie, the Executive Director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“The legislature didn’t go far enough. It doesn’t meet the requirements that the federal court put out,” said David Herskovic, an attorney who has represented people who sued, saying the registry violated their rights.

Attorney Herskovic says more needs to be done to provide due process.

“Until there are individualized assessments of whether someone is dangerous and likely to re-offend, the nature of the registry and its intended goal will not be met, said Herskovic.

ACLU Political Director Shelli Weisberg agrees. She says there are disparities between what the judge called for and what the state did.

“This law is as unconstitutional as it was before they passed the new bill,” said Weisberg.

The ACLU has been involved in the lawsuits and says it plans to file briefs arguing that the state needs to do more. We could hear what the court thinks on the matter in a matter of months.