The first of two significant pieces of legislation aimed at closing military sex offender reporting loopholes passed the House on Tuesday afternoon and is now headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
The measure requires the Department of Defense to register sex offenders directly with an FBI database available to civilian law enforcement agencies and the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website prior to an offender’s release from a military prison.
The provision, attached as an amendment to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, passed the Senate in April on a 98-0 vote. The measure’s initial sponsor, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., spoke on the Senate floor in April prior to the vote and cited findings from a Scripps News investigation in urging his colleagues to approve the amendment.
Last November, Scripps reported on hundreds of military sex offenders who had successfully fallen under the radar of the public after getting out of military prison.
“Today, my amendment to hold convicted military sex offenders accountable heads to the President’s desk," Burr said Tuesday in a statement sent to the Scripps Washington Bureau. "Closing the loophole that allowed some of these sex offenders to escape detection after their release was critical to prevent additional crimes. When we know a problem exists, we cannot look the other way. I’m pleased that this legislation will become law.”
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX, the lead sponsor of the Justice For Victims of Trafficking Act, noted in an email to Scripps that he supported the measure as a part of his bill because he believes it will make the public safer.
“Convicted sex offenders must be held accountable for their heinous actions no matter who they are, which is why it was so important to close this unconscionable gap in the law as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.”
While this bill closes loopholes for future sex offenders convicted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the House also approved a second measure last week that directs the Department of Defense to create its own database of military sex offenders. That database, in addition to tracking the military’s sex offenders, also would list employees of the DOD who come into contact with military communities.
Last August, the DOD inspector general found that “the Department has little accountability of the population of sex offenders with regular and periodic access to DoD facilities.”
The legislation passed by the House last week, which was sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., also would require the military to retain items such as photographs of sex offenders. It passed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that funds the Defense Department.
The Senate or a conference committee would need to adopt Speier’s legislation before it also could head to the president for a signature.