Friday, June 19, 2015
NH State Rep Dick(head) Marston derails relief plan against aggressive collection of registry fees
Dornin: Pay $50 a Year Forever ... Or Maybe Not
HB 587 would have abolished the annual fee former sex offenders pay to be listed in the state's online database.
By Chris Dornin, Founder, CCJR
Lawmakers killed a good crime bill this year.
Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform wrote and recruited sponsors for HB 587, which would have abolished the $50 annual “fee” the state charges citizens to register as former sexual offenders, often for the rest of their lives. The charge buys them the privilege of being publicly shamed on the State Police website. Failure to pay can get them arrested and theoretically sent to prison.
Our bill died on the House floor based in part on misinformation by state Rep. Dick Marston, R-Manchester, who posted the following blurb in the House calendar before the vote:
“There is a provision in the law that would currently allow the fee to be waived if the offender was unable to afford it. The (House Criminal Justice) committee determined that repealing the fee would have resulted in virtually eliminating the registry, which would be a disservice to the citizens of NH.”
Marston misled lawmakers, perhaps intentionally. Yes, eliminating the fee would cost the state the $93,400 a year it squeezes from registrants to pay for their scarlet letter. But the registry costs state and local government far more than that. The State Police testified they employ seven people full time to keep the registry up to date. The Manchester Police say they assign two full-time officers to track their 440 registrants on the State Police website. If that is a best practice, the rest of New Hampshire needs another eight or 10 officers full time to handle the remaining 2100 registrants. The total cost easily exceeds ten times what the state collects from registrants.
We would submit the state has no right to make registrants pay anything for being pilloried on the Department of Safety’s website. They have already paid for their crimes. Registration is not voluntary and being on the registry is not a privilege. Why should registered citizens have to pay for it? Good evidence suggests sex offender registries do nothing to protect the public anyway, despite what lawmakers say.
Former offenders have every legal and moral right to challenge the fee under state law. Sex offender registration already has crippling effects on registered citizens’ financial viability. Once a potential employer finds out a person is a registered sex offender, the door of opportunity closes. We know of many registrants who are unemployed or under employed because of their registrant status. But, if they don’t pay the state $50 every year, they can be charged with yet another crime.
As far as CCJR knows, no one has actually been arrested for not paying the registry fee, though some have been threatened with arrest if they didn’t cough up the money. The point of the fee is to raise money for the State, of course, so it’s not in the state’s interest to arrest non-payers. Putting just a few registrants in prison for failing to pay a $50 charge would soon use up all the money the State hopes to collect.
As Rep. Marston suggested, the law is not entirely heartless. It provides a way for the indigent to be excused from paying. Registered citizens can ask for a hearing before the Commissioner of Safety to decide if they are unable to pay. As you can imagine, these hearings are like having a friendly talk with the fictional Don Corleone, who famously said, “Let me make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
States normally determine indigence based strictly upon income and assets. But the Department of Safety wants to know how impoverished registrants spend their limited resources. We know of registrants who have been asked if they smoke. If so, they should smoke less and pay the fee. The same goes for cell phones and cars. The threat is always the same, pay up or get arrested.
We believe this is no way to run a free state. So we’re encouraging all registrants making less than 125% of federal poverty levels to apply for a waiver of the fee. We have posted on our website clear instructions on how to do so and, if denied, how to appeal that decision into the Superior Courts. Just follow the link ccjrnh.org/challenge_the_registry_fee.
Our hope is that many registrants will exercise their rights this way. But, even if just a few end up appealing to the Courts, the State will soon spend all the money it hopes to collect through this extortionist scheme, and somebody in power will finally figure out the registry fee is not a good idea.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
Chris Dornin is the founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform.