Lolo admin proposes Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act
The Lolo and Lemanu administration is proposing legislation which would implement the minimum standards of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), and this was revealed in a letter sent to Fono leaders from Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga earlier this week.
According to the letter, SORNA provides a comprehensive set of minimum standards for sex offenders registration and notification in the United States. SORNA aims to close potential gaps and loopholes that existed under prior law and generally strengthen the nationwide network of sex offender registration and notification program.
Governor Lolo pointed out in his letter that this legislation is necessary to discharge “our responsibility to keep our children safe" and [to keep] the public aware of sex offenders living in the community. Also “if we do not come into compliance with SORNA, we will lose 10% of our Justice Assistance Grant each year, a shortfall of $47,000 per year based on the current award amount.”
This bill also accomplishes the updating of existing laws to incorporate a more comprehensive group of sex offenders, and sex offenses, for which registration is required. It requires registered sex offender to register and keep their registration current in each jurisdiction in which they reside, work or go to school.
The bill will require sex offenders to provide more extensive registration information, as well as make periodic in-person appearances to verify and update their information.
Too, it will expand the amount of information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders and will make changes in the required minimum duration of registration.
According to the letter, upon passage of the bill, the actual registry will be housed and maintained by the Legal Affairs Department. “As part of the requirements, every registered offender must submit and register their DNA via the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
The cost associated with this process is the most significant financial impediment, however, the government anticipates a favorable partnership with the FBI to minimize the initial DNA sampling costs.
“The Criminal Justice Planning Agency estimates it will have available approximately $98,000 of SORNA funding to aid in our initial implementation. We will request additional funding as needed or re-purpose existing funding to ensure we meet the implementation requirements," the letter states.
“Eventually Legal Affairs will create a division to monitor and ensure compliance of all registered offenders, including on-site visits.”
Governor Lolo cautions in his letter that the bill "contains instances of graphic language", and however unfortunate this may be, it is "necessary to achieve SORNA compliance."
“I urge you not to let this get in the way of thoughtful deliberations around the substance of the bill because once enacted, this legislation will provide important protections for the community and for our children,” said Governor Lolo.
In 2011, former Governor Togiola Tulafono also submitted the SORNA bill, however it never made it out of committee. Meanwhile, there have been questions raised by the public over past years regarding the release of information contained in the registry.
Current law — ASCA 46.2801 — outlines the Police Commissioner’s responsibility for developing and implementing a policy on the public release of relevant offender information, as well as limitations. This provision of the law states in part that registry information — excluding identity and location of victim — can be released to members of the public who provide a written request demonstrating a need to examine offender registry files necessary for the protection of themselves and/or their families.
Employers and prospective employers can also submit such a request to examine registry files in any field that has contact with minors including, but not limited to, schools, child care agencies, counseling and social services groups or agencies, churches and the hotel industry.
Full details of the American Samoa law on sex offender registry can be found on the American Samoa Bar Association website — www.asbar.org — starting with section 46.2801.
Outspoken victim’s advocate, Ipu Avegalio Lefiti has been very vocal on this matter for years, and supports the move by the administration to implement SORNA in the territory. Lefiti, who’s also Vice Chair of the Multi Disciplinary Task Force, told Samoa News the community has the right to know whether a convicted sex offender/felon is living amongst them, and she says there is a rising percentage of sex offenders.
“I believe it takes a community to rehabilitate, prevent and help a sex offender to re-enter society. Trust was ripped away by them, now it must be earned back through community notification, awareness and involvement. Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty or Safety”.
She continued, "If there is one thing we can all bank on, it is that dark deeds of all kinds, especially sexual, proliferate in the dark. I believe that by shedding light on these sexual offenses through the controversial SORNA, future sexual violence will be deterred."
Lefiti believes the SORNA reinforces heightened awareness and increases surveillance in prevention to safeguard our children and family members. It will also be considered a greater risk of detection by the offender, said Lefiti.
She said that SORNA can be a major tool for parenting through educating and instructing our children— by addressing risky personal habits and making public safety activities more effective. Education will include teaching risk factors and how to eliminate those risks. SORNA is not a means for vigilantism, nor is it for retribution or vengeful purposes.
“By no means should it be considered a punishment. It is purely a protective measure for all the community to observe and respect within the scope of the law. It protects the public from predatory sex offenders."
“Being isolated, ridiculed, ostracized, shunned or barred from employment are the risks known by every human being before they commit any crime" says Lefiti. “This should especially be true for offenders/perpetrators whether in free or third-world countries. Offenders are just going to have to get over it and survive in the community— or depart.”
Lefiti stated that SORNA will add more meaning and responsibilities for the village watch/ aumaga who are overseen by the village chiefs. “The village law should also be a mechanism that will prevent any acts of revenge or retribution. “The clergy can become an active leader in prevention, through counseling and reform activities."
“They also play the role of peace keeping,” she noted.