On Friday, April 12, Governor Steve Bullock signed into law a bill that was a top priority for Attorney General Tim Fox and Montana’s legal and law enforcement communities.
HB 335, sponsored by Representative Jenny Eck (D-Helena), gives Montana’s prosecutors the authority to file a petition in district court to designate sex offenders who have no enforceable tier level. Montana’s registered sex offenders are supposed to be designated as a tier level 1, 2, or 3. This “tier” designation informs the public of the perceived risk of the offender to reoffend, with tier level 3 being the highest risk. Montana’s Sexual or Violent Offender Registry reported that Montana currently has 2,219 registered sex offenders. Approximately 1,415 of these registered sex offenders do not have a designated tier level because their convictions predated the Registry laws, they were convicted in another state that does not use tier levels, or for other reasons.
Montana law requires that undesignated sex offenders register, but they will not have a tier level to inform the public of their risk to reoffend. Furthermore, law enforcement can only hold non-designated offenders accountable for those Registry requirements that would apply to low risk (level 1) offenders.
Attorney General Tim Fox said, “Currently, there’s no clear authority for our courts to assign tier levels to offenders outside of the original sentencing for a sex offense. Without a process for post-sentencing tier designation, there are likely to be offenders in Montana who should be regulated under the more stringent requirements of a level 2 or 3 designation, but are instead operating under level 1 restrictions. This new law will give Montana’s prosecutors and law enforcement personnel the tools they need to keep our communities safe.”
Montanans want to know who is living in their communities and they look to the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry (SVOR) on the Montana Department of Justice website at www.doj.mt.gov to get a sense of the level of risk that an offender poses.
Representative Eck said, “Most of us would want to know if there were a tier 3 sex offender living down the street from us. It is very likely that some of the undesignated sex offenders on the Sexual and Violent Offenders Registry website are level 3 sex offenders, but because they are undesignated, it is difficult for communities to know what degree of risk exists.
This legislation is going to make our communities safer by giving prosecutors the tools they need to properly designate dangerous sex offenders. As a freshman legislator and as a mom, I was very happy to work with the Attorney General’s Office and county attorneys from around the state to get this bill passed into law.”