Institutional Responsiveness in Subnational Policymaking: An Examination of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws



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The rapid adoption of the initial sex offender registration and notification laws during the 1990s presents two questions about the agenda-setting behavior of subnational policymaking institutions. If sex crime rates were stagnant in the 1990s, which factors influenced 44 state legislatures to enact laws between 1990 and 1996? Additionally, what motivates state appellate courts to review laws after upholding them? The paucity of salient cases, the lack of statistical change in sex offending, and state appellate courts’ willingness to engage in judicial review after overwhelmingly upholding state law raises questions of whether political, regional, and/or intra-state forces influenced the rapid diffusion and judicial review of the initial sex offender registration and community notification laws.

The institutional and social differences between states facilitate a quasi-experimental, quantitative research design that examines three hypotheses using event history analysis. The first two hypotheses focus on the legislative institutions that I contend accelerated and decelerated diffusion – the ballot initiative process and judicial advisory opinions. Specifically, I argue that the presence of these institutions in states affected how quickly SORN diffused across states. The last hypothesis deals with judicial retention methods as an institution that enhances judicial review, which is the most direct and salient mechanism judges translate public opinion into public policy. I assert that justices in states that retain their seats in nonpartisan elections engage in judicial review more frequently than justices who participate in other retention systems. This dissertation illuminates the influence of agenda setting and media attention on the diffusion of innovation and state court policymaking in the area of crime policy.



Diffusion of innovation, State courts, Sex offender, Sexual assault, Agenda setting, Ballot initiatives, Advisory opinions