By KYLE DAVIDSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Legislature faces a tough two-month deadline to rewrite Michigan’s unconstitutional Sex Offender Registration Act, with a March 13 deadline to come up with a plan.
The clock is ticking after U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled that 2006 and 2011 amendments to the law were unconstitutionally applied to thousands of previously convicted sex offenders.
Should the Legislature fail to pass a constitutional replacement, the existing law would become unenforceable for pre-2011 registrants, according to Cleland’s decision.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which filed the court challenge, the state has almost 44,000 registered sex offenders.
Under Cleland’s ruling, the State Police would have to remove the names of those whose offenses occurred before April 12, 2011, unless the Legislature rewrites the law.
Shanon Banner, the public affairs director for the State Police, said the department is reviewing the ruling but intends to comply.
Cleland’s decision would do away with a 2006 amendment that established exclusion zones prohibiting registered sex offenders from being within 1,000 feet of schools. He found the provision unconstitutionally vague.
The Michigan Sex Offender Registration Act “has essentially been gutted by the two court decisions, and a legislative rewrite is necessary,” said Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
Cleland wrote in his decision, “Registrants and law enforcement officials have no guidance for who must register, what events must be reported, where registrants must report, how often registrants must report or when registrants become eligible for removal from the registry.”
“Michigan law makes clear that [the registry law] cannot be enforced, given such glaring omissions,” he said.
Cleland made two previous rulings in 2015 that held many parts of the registry law unconstitutional.
In 2016, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it is unconstitutional to impose new severe restrictions on sex offenders with past convictions.
The law continued to be enforced until the ACLU, a Troy law firm and the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program brought a class action lawsuit challenging the law.
Filler said, “I think legislators were waiting for that decision to come down to have further clarity because you’d hate to start working on legislation and then have a court ruling that made that legislation unnecessary or had to go in a completely different direction.
“I feel like after this ruling we have a little more clarity. We kind of know that [the Michigan Sex Offender Registration Act] has been, a lot of it, invalidated,” Filler said.
According to the ACLU, Michigan has the fourth-largest sex offender registry in the country with about 2,000 people added each year.
According to Filler, the conversation about legislative rewrites is ongoing, with legislators meeting to discuss possible revisions.