Covid-19, changing laws create Sex Offender Registry complications

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The Covid-19 pandemic is causing problems for many government agencies including those who keep track of registered sex offenders.

SORA — the Sex Offender Registry Act — was already undergoing changes before the pandemic hit.

Now, the registry remains in a holding pattern. It began in 2016 when a federal judge ruled some of Michigan’s sex offender registration rules were unconstitutional. As the legal proceedings went on, those in charge were given until March 24th, 2021 to get the laws in line with those at the Federal Level.

Among the changes made, offenders are now allowed to live or work within 1,000 feet of a school. It also changed some of the language which led to gray areas — now offenders must register all of their phone numbers and emails as opposed to just those they regularaly lose.

But as all of this was happening, Covid hit, and the federal government weight in again and brought the entire system to a halt.

“From February 14 2020 through pretty much most of 2020 SORA obligations were not enforceable,” said Joel Martinez, Ingham County’s Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.

That hold ended when the official ‘State of Emergency’ expired late last year. However as the pandemic continues, the system has been slow to get back online.

“The problem is as far as people continuing and starting up and registering again, currently we’re still in a holding pattern,” Martinez said. “I got a lot of calls and emails from (Lansing Police), Ingham County Sheriffs Office saying ‘are we charging are we not’?”

That answer will come from the state’s highest court as Michigan’s Supreme Court justices weigh in on any registry changes.

“We’re going to wait on enforcing SORA violations until that motion is resolved,” Martinez said. “That will give us the green light to say okay, go ahead, business as usual.”

In the meantime, the registry gets more out of date with each passing day.

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