Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On Wednesday January 22, 2014 Senate Courts of Justice Committee Docket, 3 Bills to Oppose or Amend and 1 Bill to Support

Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee’s docket for January 22, 2014 has 3 bills that I will be opposing (unless amendments are made to 2 of them before public comment is taken) plus the bill I support that’s on its 5th year in an attempt to get the VSP to disseminate the legal restrictions and regulations to all RSO’s in Virginia, once per year after new laws go into affect on July 1st and upon all initial registrations. 

They are: 

SB442 – Sen. Garrett
Raises the penalty for sexual abuse (a defined term) of a child aged 13 or 14 from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony 

·       There is no age gap allowance for a perpetrator who is close in age to the victim. This means Virginia would be charging a minor who is a year younger, the same age or a year or two older than the victim with a felony instead of a misdemeanor who did NOT use force, threat or intimidation.
·       It does NOT have a start date of July 1, 2014, so it would be applied retroactively to all past convictions
·       Anyone convicted in 2010, 2000, 1997 or maybe even earlier would be retroactively reclassified from a Non-Violent Sex Offender to a Violent Sex Offender. These newly categorized Violent Sex Offenders would now become “lifers” on the Virginia Registry, requiring Virginia State Police to monitor and manage them until they die.
·       Such mass retroactive extensions and reclassifications have been attempted before and failed many Circuit Courts and State Supreme Courts
·       This would deny those affected due process and violate ex post facto
·       Not knowing if 200 or 2,000 people would be retroactively mandated to lifetime VSP monitoring means the fiscal impact statement is very inaccurate
·       Amend, add an age gap allowance and a start date of July 1, 2014

SB454  – Sen. Obenshain
Amends the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Act to add solicitation of prostitution from a minor. 

·       It does NOT have a start date of July 1, 2014, so it would be applied retroactively to all past convictions. Denying them due process and violating ex post facto.
·       Not knowing if 200 or 2,000 people would be retroactively added to the VSP Registry for lifetime monitoring means the fiscal impact statement is very inaccurate
·       Amend, add a start date of July 1, 2014 

SB384 – Sen. Reeves
Provides that any adult who is convicted of an offense prohibiting proximity to children, when the offense occurred on or after July 1, 2014, shall as part of his sentence be forever prohibited from knowingly and intentionally having any contact whatsoever with children that are not in his custody on the premises of any place that he knows or has reason to know is a public library. A violation is a Class 6 felony. 

·       The word “whatsoever” could be applied to anything like holding the door open or sitting at the same table
·       Creating a Felony that ONLY applies to Registered Sex Offenders (RSO). How will they know their next trip to the library could result in a Felony even if there was no sinister intent? There is no current process to advise RSO’s in Virginia of new laws that they must abide by.
·       Instead, create a policy that ONLY Library employees can speak to, approach or assist a minor. After all there is a MUCH higher statistically likelihood that someone not on the Sex Offender Registry is going to approach, abduct or molest a child from a public location than someone who is already a known offender. Put signs up in the library stating this policy or law and everyone will be aware of other patrons who are violating the policy.
·       Propose a statewide library policy instead of a criminal statute 

SB553 – Sen. Marsden
Sex Offender Registry; notification of laws. Requires the Attorney General to annually prepare a pamphlet listing and summarizing laws containing requirements and prohibitions relevant to persons required to register as sex offenders and communicate the pamphlet to the State Police and the Department of Corrections. The bill requires the State Police to (i) publish the pamphlet on its website and (ii) annually distribute the pamphlet to persons required to register as sex offenders unless the person is under the control of the Department of Corrections or community supervision, in which case the Department of Corrections must distribute the pamphlet.

·       All the restrictions and regulations that Virginia’s Registered Offenders are required to abide by; but currently cannot be found listed anywhere. With this law the requirements and restrictions would now be known to those needing to comply.
·       The restrictions and regulations change every year when the General Assembly meets. Many times something that was not illegal the previous year is determined to be illegal, but that information is not posted or printed nor available upon request for those who must know what is permissible.
·       The punishment for Registry violations is a Class 6 Felony which carries a possible 5 years in prison, a harsh penalty for someone who’s original convicted may have been just a misdemeanor. The only possible way to avoid inadvertently breaking these ever changing rules is to make them available to those who are required to abide by them. Like with Probation restrictions, RSO restrictions are not clear-cut they are murky and ONLY they expand retroactively every year.
·       There is no allowance for good intention or harmless behavior; it is simply an arbitrary restriction or rule based on an abstract idea.
·       Not everyone has Internet access so a handout at re-registration is the perfect solution, having it on the Virginia State Police web-site for quick access is an added benefit, not just to the registered, but for the public as well.
·       From 2009 to 2012 the Virginia State Police Legislative Liaison has opposed these bills. 

o       The first year (2009) the VSP Liaison claimed to the Sub-committee “we already do this” and then I stood up and said, “no you don’t”, the committee chose to believe the VSP Lieutenant over me, the bill “died”.
o       The second year (2010) the VSP lobbied all the Legislators behind the scenes (hard) telling them that such a  handout would be “legal advise” to the RSO’s and that is not allowed so the bill “died”.
o       The third year (2011) the VSP told Legislators we’ll provide a handout without legislation mandating it, we’ll do so administratively so the bill “died” again. But when I checked up on that in after July 1, 2011 the VSP did not have copies available when asked, they were not offering copies at registration, they refused to mail out copies to requestors and in October 2011 when I finally read the 32 page list of legal statues it was missing 4 brand new laws that had taken effect on July 1st. Obviously the VSP could not be trusted to advise the 17,800+ RSO’s of their legal obligations administratively, legislation was needed.
o       The fourth year (2012) I actually can not remember if the VSP spoke against the bill or not but I do have the votes from the Senate Committee and a note I made. 

2012-SB420 Senate: Failed to report (defeated) in Courts of Justice (7-Y 7-N) 

It was an even split Democrats for it, Republicans against, which results in a bill failure. Even though 2 Republicans agreed that “the request was reasonable and a good idea they saw no reason to give RSO’s special treatment in advising them of the restrictions they must abide by as members of a governmentally designated group 

YEAS–Saslaw, Marsh, Howell, Lucas, Edwards, Puller, McEachin–7.
NAYS–Obenshain, McDougle, Stuart, Vogel, Stanley, Reeves, Garrett–7.   

o       There was no bill in 2013. 

·       This bill precludes any significant cost to the State in that it would be part of the re-registration process. This also saves the State money by preventing those who inadvertently break the law from prosecution and incarceration as the violation will have never occurred.
·       If a law is worth creating, is it not worth the effort to ensure those affected know of this law and will comply?
·       The real importance of this Bill is that it ensures that those who break the law will have done it knowingly and can therefore be held fully accountable.
·       Rarely is a bill introduced which goes so far to prevent crime from occurring as opposed to simply stating what will be done upon violation of said law.
·       Support 2014’s proposal 

Please Email or call  your Virginia Delegate and Senator about these 4 Bills that will be heard tomorrow afternoon in Senate Room A of the General Assembly building! 

Thank you.

Mary Devoy