When convicted sex offenders register each year in Massachusetts, they are required to pay an annual $75 registration fee, but necn has found hundreds are failing to pay that fee and the state is doing little about it.
"It's completely unacceptable and it's a sign of a system that is dysfunctional and needs to change," began Sen. Bruce Tarr.
Since 2012, the Sex Offender Registry Board has collected $1.1 million in fees from men and women convicted of sex crimes, but the board has left even more money on the table- failing to collect another $1.2 million in fees.
"If we were in private industry and you were basically saying, 'hey, 40 percent of what you think your revenue should be is not being collected,' management would say, 'this isn't working right,'" Rep. Bradley Jones added.
The state already waives fees for sex offenders deemed too poor to pay. According to state data, last year the board waived the $75 fee for about a third of the more than 11,000 offenders in the system. That money is not counted in this 1.2 million in uncollected fees.
Paul Craney heads the non-profit, non-partisan Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. He points out that the money collected goes back into SORB's annual $3.8 million dollar budget- and ultimately taxpayers are left holding the bag.
"Massachusetts is continually ranked as one of the most expensive states to do business in, to live in and here we are passing over a group of people who owe money," Craney said.
Under the current system, if an offender fails to pay the registration fee, the board sends them a letter warning them that they are breaking the law. If the offender still doesn't pay, SORB sends another letter, but the agency claims the statute doesn't give them the power to do anything else.
"What are they gonna think about- 'I don't have to pay the fee? Maybe I can be lax on the registration.' We cannot afford to go down that slippery slope with folks that are being required to register for a reason," Sen. Tarr continued.
Tarr, the Senate Minority leader, and Senator Bradley Jones, House Minority Leader, filed similar budget amendments to put more teeth in the law. Jones' amendment would require the board to notify the departments of Revenue and Transitional Assistance if an offender fails to pay along with the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
"Just like if you have unpaid parking tickets or you have tolls or things like that, you're not going to get your car registered until you resolve these issues," Rep. Jones added.
Jones' amendment passed in the House. Tarr's failed in the Senate, but it can still make it onto the Governor's desk through conference committee. Asked if he would support or veto the measure, Governor Baker declined to weigh in.
"We'll take a look at the legislation and make our decisions going forward from there," Baker said.