Thursday, January 9, 2014

Virginia Bill SB553: Sex Offender Registry; Notification of Laws Patroned by Senator Dave 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. 

What does this bill do? 

Why is it being proposed? 

Well, I can tell you the history of this bill as I initiated it way back in 2009 during my first session. 

As many of you know, currently when a new law is passed that changes where an RSO can or can’t be, who they can or can’t be with, what their classification is or when certain information is required to be updated they are NOT notified of the change nor are these restrictions readily available anywhere for an RSO to confirm they are not breaking the law. 

Why does this matter? 

Because being an RSO is like being on lifetime Probation except the “rules of the game” change yearly. When you are on Probation you are given a written list of the rules and you must sign that you understand them all. Then if you break a rule of Probation you face the legal consequences. 

But for RSO’s no one tells you the rules, many people in authority don’t even know them because they change so frequently, but yet if an RSO breaks “a rule” which is actually a law they face a new Felony even if their original conviction that put them on the Registry might have been a misdemeanor. 

Registry laws (restrictions and regulations) are generally based on the… “What if’s”, almost a crystal ball approach to lawmaking. So how are the RSO’s supposed to know what the lawmakers have recently legislated as a “no-no”? 

What I’ve previously asked for the bill to do: 

  1. All Virginia and all Federal laws should be available in easily understandable terms not legal mumbo-jumbo like on this blog, to every RSO. 
  2. The first copy would be given to an RSO upon their first registration and then an updated and complete list given each year (without having to ask for it) after the General Assembly session bills become law on July 1st .
  3. The list would be posted on-line and available upon request to be mailed out to those RSO’s without Internet access (many RSO’s are prohibited from using the Internet, many RSO’s can not afford to have Internet and in some parts of the state Internet access is not available to anyone) especially when they live 2-3 hours from the closest VSP Barracks.
Past Legislation attempting to accomplish this goal:
·         2009-    HB2225
·         2010-     HB1328
·         2011-      HB2382
·         2012-     SB420
·         2013-    No Bill

Every year the Virginia State Police Legislative Liaison has opposed these bills. 

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”. 

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”. 

Articles on the 2010 Bill: 

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. 

The fourth year (2012) I actually can not remember if the VSP spoke against the bill or not because this version proposed the Virginia Attorney General take on the responsibility of creating the handout and I don't have the time to find and listen to the audio of that meeting 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. 

               Articles on the 2012 Bill: 

There was no such bill in 2013. 

So this is the fifth try (2014) to get the State of Virginia to advise the RSO’s of their legal obligations as an RSO, a label the State has given them. 

The State need not inform citizens that killing another person is against the law, that is obvious. 

But just like with Probation restrictions, RSO restrictions are not clear-cut. They are murky and 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.  

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, if they sign for receipt of the list each year.

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. 

I have promised the patron that I will NOT stand up and speak in favor of this 2014 version during the Committee hearing and I’ve decided NOT to send all 140 Legislators a mass-email on this bill as I do with all other bills during session. Perhaps if I do not stand up to tell the lawmakers and the VSP that they are failing the 20,500+ RSO’s and their families by intentionally setting them up with no information/direction, the bill may  finally pass this year. I'm willing to try anything to get this bill passed and my silence is what I'm trying for 2014.

But what I am doing this year is publishing this post advising all of you of the need (as if you didn’t already know) and the history of this request. 

And I’m asking all of you that you are armed with the knowledge and history of this bill to please immediately Email or call your one State Delegate and your one State Senator asking them to vote “Yes” on SB553 

Mary Davye Devoy