N.C. could lose grant money for not updating sex offender registry

by: Jeff Smith Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Eyewitness News has learned the state could lose more than $800,000 every year for not updating its sex offender database.

The state attorney general urged lawmakers Thursday to find the money to make the improvements.

A 6-year-old federal law requires states to upgrade their sex offender databases to be part of a unified, national tracking system. North Carolina hasn't even attempted to follow that law.

Eyewitness News dug through documents explaining how some say becoming part of the federal sex offender database -- called SORNA -- better protects families by giving them more information about offenders in their communities.

Law enforcement sources said it would cost North Carolina $16 million to upgrade its registry software and reclassify nearly 13,000 sex offenders in the federal system.

"At some point, when you have limited resources, you have to pick and choose and prioritize where you feel the spending is most important," said state Sen. Bob Rucho.

The SORNA database was designed to make it easier to track sex offenders across state lines, find out their places of employment and even the kinds of cars they drive.

However, 36 states have not spent the money to upgrade their sex offender registries and comply with the law. Many states said it's cheaper to lose grant money than overhaul their internet databases.

"There's a saying, 'You show me where your money is, and I'll show you where your heart is,'" said Kate Stahlman, who works with local women who've been abused and sold into sex slavery and prostitution. "Unfortunately, their heart is not with our children and not with women that are being raped and trafficked."

Stahlman said state lawmakers recently passed a $20-billion budget and was outraged they didn't consider finding the money to become part of the federal system.

"I guarantee if their daughter was raped or trafficked, they would find that $16 million," she said.

Rucho said North Carolina already effectively tracks sex offenders through an easy-to-use website, and there's no need to make drastic changes.

"It's an example of Washington deciding that they're so much smarter than the rest of us, deciding how they want it done, even though it isn't necessary for us to do," Rucho said. "We feel we have a system that is probably as good or better than what they're offering."

There are also concerns that the SORNA database goes too far and greatly expands the kinds of crimes that are considered sex offenses. It no longer affords any privacy protection to juveniles whose information and photos must be posted online.

The state Department of Justice said lawmakers haven't even drafted a bill to make the federal changes. Until they do, the state will lose $800,000 in federal law enforcement grant money every year.

To view the website for the N.C. sex offender registry, click here.

To view the website for the S.C. sex offender registry, click here.