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AG Stenehjem criticized for not complying with national sex offender registration

Democratic-NPL candidate Jeanette Boechler said Wednesday that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem "falsely claimed" North Dakota was, for the most part, complying with a 2006 law that set national standards for sex offender registration.

Jeanette Boechler
Jeanette Boechler

Democratic-NPL candidate Jeanette Boechler said Wednesday that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem "falsely claimed" North Dakota was, for the most part, complying with a 2006 law that set national standards for sex offender registration.

But Stenehjem said the state is "99 percent compliant" with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed by Congress in 2006.

"I don't think the voters of North Dakota know that we're not in compliance, and I don't think they would like it," Boechler said.

Stenehjem said the state already is "at the forefront" of sex offender registry and long-term treatment -- even if it doesn't follow all provisions of the law.

"I don't want to weaken it just to say that we're in compliance with a mandate from Washington," he said.


Not compliant

Boechler criticized comments Stenehjem made to the Herald this summer -- especially his assertion that the state is "in full compliance except for a couple of areas" of the law where he has "policy disputes with the one-size-fits-all federal approach."

She released a report Monday that says Stenehjem's claim was untrue because North Dakota isn't among the top 20 states in the nation as far as compliance with the law.

Stenehjem said the federal law would require sex offenders' level of risk to be based on the statute they were convicted of -- but that could be flawed because plea bargains often result in convictions on a lesser charge.

Instead, North Dakota relies on the Sex Offender Risk Assessment Committee to look at the actual crime that was committed and assess other factors that could increase the risk of reoffending.

Boechler said deciding which process to use isn't up to Stenehjem and that the committee takes a "subjective" approach.

"We have a federal law that deals with that and it's for the benefit of all of the people of all of the states, and basically he refuses to comply with it," she said.

Stenehjem said Boechler "favors a race to the bottom" by following a federal approach that "winds up with second-rate information."


"I favor useful information that tells moms and dads what kinds of sex offenders are living in their neighborhoods and what they were convicted of doing," he said. "That is far better for public safety than the way the feds want us to do it."

Stenehjem said that isn't just his opinion -- he testified to state lawmakers in both 2007 and 2009 about the areas of the law that the state was not complying with and why he believed the North Dakota's system was superior.

"And the Legislature agreed unanimously that the approach that we have in North Dakota is better," he said.


Boechler said this is more than just a campaign issue because it affects everybody across the country. If elected, she said she would make it a main priority to bring North Dakota into full compliance with the law as soon as possible.

"There's some kind of crimes that society as a whole just can't anticipate," she said. "This we can, and there's something we can do about it. Why aren't we?"

In July, North Dakota received its last one-year extension from the federal government to comply with the law -- or risk losing 10 percent of the state's annual allotment of a major source of federal grants to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Stenehjem expects that impact to be considerably less next year than the $78,000 impact the state faced in fiscal year 2010.


Fully complying with the federal law actually would be easier and require less work for the attorney general's office, Stenehjem said, because the state wouldn't need to rely on the committee to assess offenders.

But the change would result in a state sex offender website that is "far worse and far less informative" to residents, he said.

"I just think that's better," Stenehjem said. "And I hear from moms and dads all the time who look at our website and tell us it is top-notch."

Boechler said she believes residents won't be happy that the state isn't following the national law.

"I want to know who's living down the street from me and who's the maintenance person or the coach in school," she said. "I can guarantee you that the people of North Dakota feel the same way about that."

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

N.D. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem

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