Virtually from the time of its founding, the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center has been active in educating the public, and the public’s representatives, about protecting children from abduction and exploitation. In pushing for greater knowledge and awareness about the safety of children, and by advocating for more effective tools for child protection, the work of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center has influenced and informed both local and federal legislation. The drive to change the law has sometimes been in response to tragic events. However, out of this sadness, the families, friends and communities of those hurt have worked to improve society in the hope of preventing future tragedies.
The following timeline follows the history of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center's involvement in the legislative process:
Minnesota's Sex Offender Registration Act
This is the first legislative initiative undertaken by the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (formerly Jacob Wetterling Foundation). When Jacob was abducted in October 1989, law enforcement did not have a comprehensive list of sex offenders from which to begin their investigation. The leads received by investigators became the basis of an extensive computerized database. The act went into effect July, 1991.
The Missing Child Response Act
This act, for cases of missing and endangered children, was brought to the Minnesota Legislature by The Grant Hussey Foundation and supported by the JWRC. This act directed the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to develop a model policy for missing child response, and directed each police chief and sheriff to have such a written policy. Additionally, the act requires the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to assist any law enforcement agency in missing child situations and requires an integrated electronic communication network for crime prevention information between state agencies, law enforcement and the private sector. This act also requires pre-trial bail evaluations for suspects detained for violent crimes; and requires those suspects to surrender any firearms. Grant Hussey, of Minnesota, was murdered in 1993 at the age of 15 by a neighbor who then committed suicide after being charged with abusing Grant.
The Federal 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, including the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sex Offender Registration Act
This act mandates that each state create a very narrowly drawn, specific program to register sex offenders. This bill requires states to implement sex offender and crimes against children registries. The compliance deadline was September 30, 1997.
An amendment to the Wetterling Act, requiring the release of relevant sex offender information to the public for protection from sexually violent offenders. This has become known as Community Notification. Megan’s Law is named for seven year old Megan Kanka, of New Jersey, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered by a neighbor who was also a repeat violent sex offender.
The Pam Lychner Sex Offender Tracking and Identification Act
Another amendment to the Wetterling Act. This act allows the FBI to establish a national database of the names and addresses of sex offenders who are released from prison and requires lifetime registration for recidivists and offenders who commit certain aggravated offenses. The act is named for Pam Lychner, who became a victims’ rights advocate after she narrowly escaped an attack by a repeat sex offender. Ms. Lychner and her two daughters perished in the crash of TWA flight 800 off of Long Island, N.Y.
The Jacob Wetterling Improvements Act
This act includes among its requirements heightened registration requirements for sexually violent offenders, including members of the United States Armed Forces who have been convicted in any civilian or military court. Such offenders must register in their state of residence, as well as in the state where they work or go to school. Additionally, under this act sex offenders convicted of a federal crime and imprisoned in a federal facility are required to register in their state of residence upon release. The act also included a motion from Congress that each state shall create laws prohibiting the stalking of juveniles.
Requires states to notify the National Crime Information Center when they find an unidentified body and crosscheck the Missing Persons File with the Unidentified Persons File to see if there are any possible matches. The bill, which provides funding for the associated costs, was signed into law in March, 2000. Jennifer’s Law is named for Jennifer Wilmer, who went missing at age 21 in 1993 in California.
Updated and broadened Minnesota’s sex offender registration requirements. Included in the law are provisions that require significantly more information about each offender to be included in the registry. These informational requirements cover such matters as the locations of all properties leased or owned by the offender, the addresses of all places of employment, and the make, model and tag number of all vehicles owned or regularly driven by the offender. The law also broadened the scope of who must register, as well as the technical requirements for keeping that registration up to date, and increased the penalties for noncompliance. Katie’s Law is named for Katie Poirier, of Minnesota, who was abducted and murdered by a repeat sex offender.
The Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act
Amends the Wetterling Act by requiring offenders to report information regarding any enrollment or employment at an institution of higher education and to provide this information to a law enforcement agency whose jurisdiction includes the institution.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
This aact broadly updates and strengthens multiple areas of law relating to the protection of children. Included in the act are increases in mandatory minimum sentences for sex offenders, increases in penalties for internet crimes against children, and upgrades in sex offender registration and tracking provisions. The act seeks to strengthen sex offender registration and notification nationwide by establishing strict uniform standards. The act gives state governments seven years to implement its registration and tracking requirements. The act is named for Adam Walsh, of Florida, who was abducted and murdered in 1981 at the age of six.
Within the wide breadth of the act are a variety of controversial issues. The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center is particularly concerned about how this new legislation addresses juveniles convicted of sexually based offenses.
This law is included within the wide-ranging Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, establishing a nationwide online sex offender database. The database, named "The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website," allows the public to search for sex offender information by zip code or geographic radius. Dru’s Law is named for Dru Sjodin who was abducted in North Dakota, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a repeat violent sex offender.