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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Rationale Behind SB384 is Absurd and Today’s Amendment Did Nothing to Make it Any Better

Today SB384  RSO’s in Libraries - Senator Bryce 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 was heard by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. 

I raised a few concerns with this proposal to the committee members today. 

1- Growing up in Norfolk during the 70’s and 80’s (long before the Internet) if I had a school project to research I would go to the Kirn Library, downtown…. a known sanctuary for the homeless, mostly men.  

Could some of those homeless men have been “sex offenders” with a prior conviction? Sure. 

Did I ever interact with those men in a way that could be captured by this proposal? Yes I did and that’s where “knowingly and intentionally having any contact whatsoever” has me very concerned.  

The homeless men held the door to the entrance open for me, they stood in line at the fountain waiting for a drink of water, even holding the stubborn button down for me, they sat and sometimes slept at the same table I was sitting at, they’d walked down the same row of books I was sitting on the floor in, they road inside the elevator with me and they smiled and said hello almost every time, they were polite and so was I. 

In today’s paranoid, hyper-sensitive and “think-the-worst-first” world we live in, I wonder if those men who might have been “sex offenders” but were not up to anything sinister would today be questioned and charged for their “contact” with me. Would common courtesy NOW be construed as criminal activity simply because they are on a registry? 

This proposal probably sounds reasonable to most people because the perception of a Registered Sex Offender is of a high risk of danger, an inevitable threat. Well, perception is NOT reality. RSO’s have the second lowest recidivism rate of ANY crime. 

Wouldn’t it be just as reasonable to instead propose that ANY adult male or female be prohibited “whatsoever” from contact with ANY child not in their custody; ONLY Library employees can speak to, approach or assist minors? After all statistically there is a MUCH higher chance that a person not on the registry will approach, abduct or molest a child than someone who is a known ex-offender. Additionally if a person, anyone is creating a public nuisance or even talking in a library this person can be approached and told to discontinue their activities. Further activities in violation of Library policy could result in them being asked to leave the premises by the librarian and failing to follow this instruction I believe could be charged with disorderly conduct or creating a public nuisance. 

2- Today the proposal is for Libraries…. Next year will it be Barnes & Noble stores, McDonald’s, Museums, Zoos, Malls or maybe the State Capitol. Once we start banning contact in one location, won’t it lead to another and another until finally we’ve banished them from having contact with anyone, anywhere, whatsoever? When will it be enough?  

3-This proposal creates a NEW Felony for ONLY Registered Sex Offenders. Today in Virginia even after 5 separate attempts over the last 6 sessions to mandate the Virginia State Police inform Registered citizens of their legal restrictions and regulations they still vigorously opposes a requirement to disseminate this critical information.
·         2009-   HB2225
·         2010-    HB1328
·         2011-     HB2382
·         2012-    SB420
·         2013-    No Bill
·         2014-   SB553 

How will Virginia’s Registered Sex Offenders know that their next trip to the local library could result in a Felony charge if this bill becomes law? They won’t, situations with no criminal intent and normal behavior will now be a crime with SB384. 

The requester (a Commonwealth’s Attorney) of SB384 came to Richmond and spoke to the Committee to explain why this bill is needed. 

She stated that there have been 14 separate cases in Virginia where RSO’s have approached and been seen by minors in libraries with some deviant intent. They fell into 3 categories public masturbators, public urinator’s and sexual “propositioners”. 

I spoke to the requester on January 14 via phone so I knew what the reasoning behind the request was before today’s meeting. Over the last 2 weeks I have been searching on-line for news of Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia libraries committing such acts, not only did I find only one article where it was not noted anywhere that the “flasher” was an RSO but I did NOT find 14 cases. Just one! 
 

 
I believe if a Registered Sex Offender had been found masturbating and/or flashing in public libraries across the Commonwealth that all incidents would have made the local and statewide news. I find the claim of 14 cases of RSO’s committing these acts dubious at best, but I was raised to believe those in authority including whatever claim they make so I will give her the benefit of the doubt. 

Is SB384 even needed? No! 

  • Public masturbation is already a separate crime in Virginia
  • Propositioning a minor for sex acts is also a crime in Virginia
  • Public urination is not a crime in Virginia, a proposal was made in 2012 to make this a crime, it failed. 
Certainly the library “masturbators” could have been charged without this proposal. 

If the library in this Prosecutor's area is really having this many issues with RSO’s committing new sexual crimes then perhaps hiring a security guard and installing security cameras would be a better use of State resources. 

As for the cases of public urination, I would think that if it did not occur behind a shrub or behind a building BUT in plain view of others including minors then the offender could have been charged with public exposure or exhibitionism. If not, then those current crimes should be modified so that charges could be applied for future cases. 

Two of the three examples given by the requester of SB384 (the Commonwealths Attorney) are already current crimes that anyone and everyone (not only RSO’s) could and should be charged. 

SB384 is NOT necessary! It is NOT filling a void in our current criminal code. RSO’s are not avoiding criminal charges when exposing, propositioning or masturbating in ANY public area, let alone libraries. 

After I raised my 3 concerns at today’s hearing legal council to the Committee stated that “whatsoever” had them concerned as well, so it was suggested to add a specific distance in which RSO’s could NOT come within a minor before committing a crime. The distance selected and voted on was 6 feet, which does NOT solve the unintended consequences that I raised during the meeting; in point of fact it may complicate matters further. Verbal “contact” that does NOT include any lewd or suggestive could still result in criminal charges if the RSO is within the 6 foot “buffer zone”. In fact simply walking by or passing a child in a hallway could result in felony charges. 

Perhaps if the word “physical” is added in front of the word “contact” SB384 would be bit better, but it is still completely unnecessary and prejudice against one segment of our society. 

There are already plenty of criminal charges to cover the examples that were given by the requester of this bill. 

This proposal is not only unnecessary but it creates an environment of government approved paranoia and hate for all of Virginia’s 20,300+ Registered Sex Offenders and their families. The more “Sex Offender Free Zones” and additional felony punishments that only apply to RSO’s are created the more punitive and the less administrative being an RSO becomes in Virginia 

SB384 has been sent to Senate Finance Committee.    

I hope that if SB384 makes it out of Finance and to the Senate floor to be voted on, that common sense will prevail and it fails.  

Please Email or call  your Virginia Delegate and Senator today and tell them to vote “NO” on SB384.  

Sincerely, 

Mary Devoy