Thursday, February 20, 2014

Political Scapegoats: HB233 Does Nothing to Address the Reason Given for the Bill. But I Do Know What Will Fix the Problem and it Doesn’t Include Any New Restrictions or Processes (Hoops to Jump Through) for Virginia’s RSO’s

On Monday I was in the Senate Courts of Justice hearing when HB233 was being discussed. 

How name of person may be changed; sex offenders; probationers; incarcerated persons. Provides that applications for a change of name by persons for whom registration with the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry is required may only be accepted by a court after a finding that good cause exists for such application. The bill provides that if the court accepts an application from a probationer, person for whom registration with the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry is required, or incarcerated person, a copy of the application shall be mailed or delivered to the attorney for the Commonwealth for the jurisdiction where the petition was filed and the attorney for the Commonwealth for any jurisdiction where a conviction occurred that resulted in the petitioner's restricted status. The bill also provides that the attorney for the Commonwealth where the petition was filed shall be entitled to respond and represent the interests of the Commonwealth. The bill provides that the court shall conduct a hearing on such applications and may order a change of name if the court determines that it would not frustrate a legitimate law-enforcement purpose, is not sought for a fraudulent purpose, and would not otherwise infringe upon the rights of others. The bill also provides that the order shall contain written findings stating the court's basis for granting the order. 

The bill also provides that any order granting a change of name that fails to comport with the requirements is void ab initio and that the attorney for the Commonwealth for the jurisdiction where the petition was filed has the authority to bring an independent action at any time to have such order declared void. The bill also provides that if an order granting a change of name is declared void or if a person is convicted of perjury for unlawfully changing his name, the clerk of the court entering the order or the order of conviction shall transmit a certified copy of the order to the State Registrar of Vital Records, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the State Board of Elections, the Central Criminal Records Exchange, and any agency or department of the Commonwealth that has issued a license to the person where such license utilizes the person's changed name.  

HB233 is a bill I had not been following since I do not oppose the proposal. I had missed the explanation of its intent in the House so I was very surprised by what the patron told the Senate on February 17, 2014. 

On Monday the patron mentioned that a Registered Sex Offender had changed his name and the victim was unable to locate him on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry because of the change. The article (link above) was titled Dodging Google. 

With this information/reasoning for HB233 being proposed I can confidently tell everyone that HB233 will NOT fix the problem. 

But I do know what will.  

Most Registrants are going to be upset that I’m posting about this or if they knew I sent an email to all 40 Senators about it on Monday afternoon when I returned home.  

But HB233 will not fix the issue that is being claimed, it will still exist even if HB233 becomes law and then another irrelevant proposal will be made at the 2015 or 2016 General Assembly session. If our elected officials are going to claim legislation will fix an issue when it really will not then someone needs to point that out. And so I am, here goes. 

The Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry already lists every offenders name, nickname, alias, maiden name and married name on their posting. No registered offender in Virginia is flying under the radar. 

The problem with an offender’s secondary name or nickname not coming up in a Google search is the Virginia State Police website. 

The VSP search queries are basic and inferior. The VSP website needs to be coded better. They need to assign labels/tags for every name listed on each offenders posting. If the VSP would update the meta tags and broaden the search options on their website then Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc would pick up all of the information on every post. A search engine can only capture the tags a website has assigned.  

If the real purpose of HB233 is to make an RSO go through a hearing to get their name changed then that is what the patron should state as his intent to the Committee, not that offenders are dodging Internet searches when they aren’t, the VSP is. 

I am now concerned since listening to the full discussion on Monday that HB233 will affect the legal adoption or marriages of registered offenders in Virginia. There are juveniles on our registry and if foster parents want to adopt the child and give them their last name will this new process create more problems? Or when a female registrant gets married and wants to take her husbands name will this new process create more problems? What about if she gets divorced? No one knows. 

Yesterday, Wednesday February 19, 2014 HB233 passed the Senate 39-1.  Then there was a request for a re-vote and it passed 38-2. 

Somehow HB233 went from the first reading on Tuesday directly to a third reading on Wednesday per LIS, I’m not sure what happened with the second reading. 

So now HB233 goes to the Governor of Virginia to be signed into law, to be amended or to be vetoed. 

I have sent an email to the Governors staff advising them that HB233 will not fix the Google issue. That the Virginia State Police web-designer is where the problem resides not with anything an offender has done when it comes to a legal name change. 

I do not like it when Legislators use Registered Sex Offenders as Scapegoats. RSO’s have enough difficulties in finding employment, housing, providing for their families and maintaining compliance when the Commonwealth makes absolutely no effort in advising them of their restrictions and regulations. But when they hold one RSO as an example of someone trying to take advantage of the system and then use them as the reason to pass a law that will not even fix the issue they have claimed exists.......they have gone too far and I will post about it. 

RSO’s and their families will not be used as political scapegoats in Virginia if I can help it! 

Mary Devoy