Thousands of people who live in RVs choose South Dakota as their legal home, taking advantage of low vehicle registration fees and no state income tax.
Mail-forwarding services afford them the opportunities to vote in South Dakota elections, obtain driver’s licenses and access cheaper insurance rates. But, according to a report in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the arrangement also gives convicted sex offenders a way to skirt their registration requirements while traveling the country.
“Sex offenders have got to be flocking to these places because they don’t have to account to anybody,” said Hanson County Sheriff Mark Kessler.
Nobody knows precisely how many RV owners are using South Dakota to stay off the sex offender registry elsewhere. But the problem led Attorney General Larry Long to propose House Bill 1079, which would require sex offenders with no more than a South Dakota mailing address to register here.
Kessler said that on three occasions, law enforcement from another state has called to say an offender has changed his address to 411 N. Sixth St. in Emery, where thousands of full-time RVers have their mail forwarded by My Home Address Inc.
Paul Eidsness, who owns the Sioux Falls mail-forwarding business Alternative Resources, said the bill sounds reasonable, but he doubts any RV-driving sex offenders are intentionally ducking registration laws.
Mail-forwarding businesses operate in at least three South Dakota counties: Hanson, Minnehaha and Lake. The auditors in those counties say the number of registered voters who list the businesses as their mailing addresses totals 5,900.
In Sioux Falls, the 3,700 voting RVers is more than double the number from four years ago.
Eidsness said the practice brings the state millions of dollars in extra revenue each year, but election officials have complained that people who don’t really live in the state are able to vote there.
Long’s bill is notable for its attempt at counting RVers as citizens where others have tried to disenfranchise them. A Texas judge ruled in favor of 9,000 full-time RVers following a close legislative race in 2000, but a Tennessee judge last year said the state was right to strip RVers of their voting privileges. (The Tennessee group was allowed to vote when they re-registered their address as a parking lot rather than a mail-forwarding business.)
The bill also would require sex offenders 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. Under current law, the five-day rule applies only to living, working and attending school in the state.
Long said the change probably would not affect many offenders.
“We’ve got a few of those,” he said. “Not many, but we want less than what we’ve got.”