South Dakota is a haven for people who own recreational vehicles. Many have made the state their legal home, taking advantage of low vehicle registration fees, cheaper insurance, mail forwarding services and the absence of a state income tax.
But some law officers say convicted sex offenders can avoid registration requirements by traveling in RVs.
"Sex offenders have got to be flocking to these places because they don't have to account to anybody," Mark Kessler, Hanson County sheriff, told the Argus Leader.
Nobody knows how many RV owners are using South Dakota to stay off other states' sex offender registries. But the situation has led Attorney General Larry Long to propose HB1079, which would require sex offenders with no more than a South Dakota mailing address to register here.
If the measure becomes law, sex offenders would have to notify police within five days of applying for a driver's license, registering a vehicle, establishing a mailing address or registering to vote in South Dakota.
Currently, the five-day rule applies only to living, working and attending school in the state.
The change probably would not affect many offenders, Long said.
"We've got a few of those," he said. "Not many, but we want less than what we've got."
Kessler said that three times, law enforcement officers from another state have called to say an offender has changed his address to 411 N. Sixth St. in Emery. That's the address where thousands of full-time RVers have their mail forwarded by the service My Home Address Inc.
One offender keeps regular contact with Kessler and is listed on South Dakota's sex offender registry. But the other two have exposed a loophole in South Dakota's registration law, which effectively treats them as residents of no particular state.
One, Larry Dean Rice, 68, was convicted in Colorado in 2004 for sexual assault against a woman in her 20s. He gave up his Colorado residence two years ago and hit the road. When that happened, Colorado authorities called Kessler, and Hanson County State's Attorney Jim Davies charged him with failure to register within five days of coming to Hanson County to reside.
But a judge cleared Rice.
"Just because Rice has a South Dakota driver's license, titled his vehicles in South Dakota and contracted with the mail-forwarding service does not correlate to residency," Circuit Judge Sean O'Brien of Mitchell wrote, adding that he might have ruled otherwise if Rice had registered to vote in South Dakota.
Ron Triebwasser, owner of My Home Address Inc., said the state had no reason to prosecute Rice.
"I think it was overhanded by the state because he never lived here," Triebwasser said.
Paul Eidsness, owner of Alternative Resources, a Sioux Falls-based mail forwarding service, said Long's proposal sounds reasonable. But he said he doubts any RV-driving sex offenders are intentionally ducking registration laws.
County auditors in three counties that contain mail-forwarding businesses - Hanson, Minnehaha and Lake - say a total of 5,900 registered voters list the businesses as their mailing address.
In Sioux Falls, the 3,700 voting RVers is more than double the number from four years ago.