Last Friday, May 15, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation directing the Department of Defense to create a national online registry for convicted sex-offenders within the military to which the FBI and other law enforcement agencies would have direct access. Civilians, however, would not have access to the database.
The measure was sponsored by Representative Jackie Speier (D–CA), and was added as an earmark to the National Defense Authorization Act, a $612 billion dollar piece of legislation funding military operations, both domestic and foreign.
The impetus for the drafting of the measure was a recent investigative report conducted by Scripps News early this year. The report revealed that hundreds of military personnel convicted of sex crimes in military courts were living in the U.S. anonymously, escaping registry on public sex offender databases.
Prior to the House's measure, military servicemembers convicted of sexual assault and other sex crimes were expected to voluntarily register with sex offender databases in their communities. Unlike civilian sex offenders convicted in federal courts who are required to register prior to release from prison pursuant to the Adam Walsh Act, military offenders operate on an honor system, so to speak.
In April, Senator Richard Burr (R–NC) sponsored a bill that passed the Senate, citing the Scripps report, with alternative solutions to the problems. His proposal was apart of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which passed the Senate with unanimous approval. The Senate bill requires the DOD to register military sex offenders with an FBI database to which civilian law enforcement agencies have direct access, as well as the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender list prior to release from military prison.
Rep. Speier's proposed legislation still requires convicted offenders to self-register with local authorities, but if they fail to do so in a timely manner, then their names become public. It is unclear how long an offender would have to register before his or her name became public.
The House bill, however, does cast a wider net, subjecting non-military personnel that work at DOD facilities and have been convicted of a sexual offense to the proposed changes. Moreover, the House bill would require the DOD to keep pictures on file of convicted sex offenders.
Both measures are still awaiting approval from the Senate and House, respectively. Friday, in a statement made to the media, Rep. Spieir said, "The House has taken another step toward closing the sex offender tracking loophole. I'm hopeful that the Senate will follow suit and include a similar provision in its defense bill."