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According to the LBB, there is no significant fiscal impact to local or state government. In order to enforce compliance to this statute, counties will likely pay contracts to software development companies that will install monitoring programs onto the technology devices of sex offenders. These costs according to Caldwell, Comal, and Hays Counties Community Supervision and Corrections Department are offset by the fees paid by the sex offender.
HB 372 would define guidelines to ensure sex offenders compliance to current statutes on prohibitions of internet access by requiring defendants to submit to regular inspection of each electronic device used by the defendant to access the Internet. This bill would expand the statute by extending the internet access prohibitions to moderate risk (Level 2) sex offenders.
HB 372 would ensure that sex offenders comply with prohibitions against certain types of internet access. Currently, not all counties in Texas ensure compliance to internet prohibition for high risk sex offenders. Some of the counties that are presently in compliance with the internet prohibition statute have paid for contracts to software development companies to install monitoring software that will prohibit access to certain social networking sites. Presumably, counties not currently in compliance would do the same if this bill is enacted.
An identical bill has come to the floor during a past legislative session but was not enacted. Yet, due to the persistence of certain legislators and activists who actively struggle to ensure that our communities are properly safeguarded, this bill has had been resurrected and is again under consideration by the legislature.
We support the provisions of this bill which would ensure that counties enforce the internet prohibitions against high risk sex offenders.
We do have concerns about adding the prohibition to moderate risk offenders. This concern is based on flaws in the risk level assessment mechanism which sometimes leads people who are clearly higher risk individuals to be classified as low risk and people who are clearly low risk individuals to be classified as moderate risk. The risk assessment mechanism can be found at this link: assigning risk level of assessment.
For example the assessment tool may very easily lead to an obviously low risk person (such as a college student who foolishly streaks at a ballgame) being wrongly labeled as moderate risk and thus being subject to the internet prohibition which seems excessive. At the same time, there are cases where child sex offenders are labeled as low risk, meaning they would not be subject to the same level of monitoring as the foolish streaker in the previous example. This disparity in assessment outcomes leads to a clear disparity in monitoring requirements. It would be better to keep the prohibition limited to high risk offenders as currently in statute.
While we continue to support the bill because it fits within the appropriate role of government, it may be wise to consider amending it to strike the provision extending internet monitoring to moderate risk offenders until a more consistent mechanism can be developed for assessing who is truly a risk and who is not.