No plans for return of defeated sex offender registry bill

Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

A proposal that would have allowed some people to have their names removed from Arizona’s sex offender registry appears unlikely to return in the upcoming legislative session.

House Bill 2613, which Speaker Rusty Bowers sponsored at the request of then-Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but fell short in the Senate, where it became collateral damage in a bitter stalemate over legislative efforts to extend the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue.

With Montgomery gone from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office — Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him to the Arizona Supreme Court in September — the impetus for the sex offender registry bill may be gone as well.

Bowers, R-Mesa, has not yet decided whether he will re-introduce the 2019 proposal, spokesman Andrew Wilder said. And new Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, who was appointed to replace Montgomery in October, has no position on the matter, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer. If there is a new bill in 2020, Liewer said, Adel will review it.

Currently, the only people who are eligible to end the requirement that they register as sex offenders for life are people who were convicted of consensual sexual contact with a minor who is at least 15 years old. To be eligible for removal from the registry, offenders must have been under 22 years old at the time of their offenses.

HB2613 would have expanded the list of crimes for which people can get their names removed from the registry. If the victim was at least 15 years old, or posing as at least that age, offenders can petition a judge to end their registration requirements. To be eligible, an offender must have gone at least 10 years without any subsequent offenses, can’t have been convicted of more than one offense involving more than one victim, and must be at least 35 years old. The age requirement would have made it more difficult for people who were already eligible for removal prior to HB2613.

The bill’s scope was fairly limited and it would have applied only to a small number of sex crimes. Montgomery said data showed that sex offenders who met the bill’s criteria were at little or no risk to re-offend, and that they should therefore be eligible to have the registration requirement lifted.

As a result of that narrow scope, even many advocates of criminal justice reform, including those who focus primarily on sex offenses, supported the bill only tepidly, if at all. Jared Keenan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which supported HB2613, said advocates largely backed the bill, but few will be heartbroken to see it fall by the wayside because it did “almost nothing.”

“People just thought it didn’t accomplish what it was trying to accomplish or seemed to want to accomplish,” Keenan said.

Keenan said Arizona’s sex offender registration laws need a drastic overhaul, but he acknowledged that it’s unlikely to happen. Passing any substantive criminal justice reform laws is difficult, he said, and changing laws involving sex offenses generates even more opposition.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”