Friday, April 18, 2014

Action Alert: 7 Proposals for 2015! Contact Your One Virginia Delegate, One Virginia Senator, Attorney General Mark Herring and Governor Terry McAuliffe Asking Them to Sponsor or Find Sponsors Today!

For 6 years I have been asking the Virginia Legislators to sponsor some “good” bills based on facts and empirical evidence as opposed to the legislation that they are used to sponsoring based on myth, fear and hate. 

It is time they hear their constituents ask for these reasonable changes, to ask them to patron/sponsor a bill for the next session.

The 2015 Virginia General Assembly session doesn’t begin until January 14th but the 100 Delegates and the 40 Senators will have already decided much of the legislation that they plan to sponsor by this summer .

2015 will be a short-session year and that means the Virginia Delegates are limited to a maximum of 15 bills, that’s it! Senators do not have a maximum bill limit in short session years.

November 2014 is not an election year (at the state level) so Virginia Delegates and Senators will be meeting with constituents, lobbyists and advocates earlier than if it were an election year and all will be vying for one of those 15 slots.  

The Governor and the Attorney General have their own Legislative Agendas each session, known as “Administration Bills” . So they too are looking for Delegates and Senators to patron/sponsor their bills leaving less opportunities for constituents and advocates. 

Today, I am asking all of you to contact your one Delegate and one Senator in the next 6 weeks (before June 1st). 

From 7 of the below goal, select one or two that speaks to you the most and ask your representatives to sponsor a bill proposing the change. You can ask them in a phone call, in an email or in an in-person appointment at their district office (near you). 

Do you know who your representatives are? If not, look them up Virginia Delegates and Senators.  
If you are feeling industrious you could also contact the Governor Terry McAuliffe
1111 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219  

The Attorney General Mark Herring 900 East Main Street Richmond, VA 23219
asking them to add one or two of the below proposals to their 2015 Legislative Agenda.  

The top 7 goals from my overall list of 25 in no particular order are:
  • Remove the Employer/Company name of Offenders from the VSP Public Sex Offender Registry
  • Written notice needs to be given of all current and new legal restrictions /regulations for RSO’s
  • Procedural changes to Offender Registration to make compliance attainable based on VSP operational hours
  • Implement a 3-Tier Risk-Based Classification System as opposed to our current 2-Tiered Conviction Based System
  • Form a Virginia Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) to take the politics out of policy
  • Compliant Non-Violent Offenders should be automatically removed on 15 Year Anniversary instead of petitioning the court
  • Repeal Virginia’s 21-Day (to Recant) Rule
When you send e-mails or leave voice-mails to your representatives:

  • They must be factual, don’t make numbers or facts up. If you don’t know or you aren’t sure about specific points say that and tell them you’ll get back to them with the information and be sure you do! Then next time do some prep work ahead of time so you’ll be better prepared.
  • Emails should not be any longer than a one page Word document with standard margins and font. If your email is longer than one page, edit it and if needed edit again.
  • You can be blunt but don’t be rude, condescending or threatening. Be polite, professional and respectful. Caller fined for profane message to AG’s office(Virginia), April 21, 2014
  • Your request should be about public safety and citizens in general, not about your personal plight. Keep it about others, the public and the children of the Commonwealth
  • Whining is a waste of time; they don't want to hear it and anything else you’ve said will be ignored
After you call, email or meet with them, follow up a few weeks later looking for an answer. 

If they decline to be a patron/sponsor, find out why. What are their issues, concerns hesitations?

Now you know if their concerns can be addressed they may patron a bill in the future. And even if they won’t patron it if another lawmaker does your representative may not automatically vote against it but consider a vote for it because of the knowledge you imparted on this issue. 

Also if they decline to be a patron/sponsor let them know you will ask them again next year and perhaps the year after that. Advise them this is an issue that will not go away and neither will you. 

Below you will find more details on each of these goals so you can build your email or prepare for your phone call or appointment. 

There are some issues we’ve all experienced that can only be fixed with court challenges BUT there are many of the issues we all have encountered as RSO’s or the loved ones of an RSO that can be fixed with legislation. But without proposed legislation (bills) at the yearly legislative session that only happens because someone requested it reform will never happen. If we don’t speak up, make the request then nothing will ever change. 

Standing on the sidelines helps no one. 

If you’re uncomfortable about this issue, the more you talk about it the more comfortable you’ll become. 

This action item is a step forward and you can do it from the security of your home if you like, start small but at least start advocating. 

Thank you!
Mary Devoy 

1) Remove the Employer/Company Name of Offenders from the VSP Public Sex Offender Registry so Virginia Employers aren’t being shamed for hiring the best candidate or participating in the successful re-entry of former offenders across the Commonwealth. 

Today, 29 states currently do not list any employer information publicly.  

Virginia is one of only 6 states that publicly list both the employer name and the address. 

Back in 2012 Kansas and in September 2013 Texas removed ALL employment information from their public registries. 

The Federal Adam Walsh Act/SORNA does NOT require the name of the employer/company to be publicly posted, just the address. The AWA/SORNA recognized that this practice would hinder the ability of an ex-offender to re-acclimate to societal norms. 

Previous Virginia Legislation attempting to accomplish this:
·        2010- SB635 (Passed the Virginia Senate 40-0 to then be stopped in a House Militia, Police and Safety Sub-committee of 6)
·        2012- HB413 (“Laid on the table” instead of voting by the House Courts of Justice Criminal Sub-committee of 8) 

2) Written notice of all Legal Restrictions /Regulations that all Registered Sex Offenders (RSO)must abide by in Virginia.  

Currently when a new law is passed that changes where an offender 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. 

All Virginia and all Federal laws should be available in easily understandable terms not legal mumbo-jumbo.  

The first copy to given to an RSO at upon their first registration and then an updated and complete list given each year after the General Assembly session when the new laws take effect on July 1st . 

The list would be posted on-line and available upon request to be mailed to those RSO’s without Internet access. 

Previous Virginia Legislation attempting to accomplish this
·         2009-    HB2225
·         2010-     HB1328
·         2011-      HB2382
·         2012-     SB420
·         2013-    No Bill
·         2014-    SB553 

Problem: The Virginia State Police (the owner of the Virginia Registry and manager/monitor of all the RSO’s) is not liable for giving out incorrect or out-dated information to Virginia’s RSO’s per § 9.1-917 

Solution: They need to be disseminating correct information when asked and they need to be accountable if they don’t.
Problem: There are Federal laws/rules for RSO’s who want to travel internationally, visit a Federal Park, Forest or Campground and are NOT under Probation supervision, but yet the VSP can not advise Virginia’s RSO’s what those requirements are or where to find them.

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”? 

Every year there has been a bill the VSP Legislative Liaison has lobbied hard against it and has been successful. The VSP does NOT want Virginia’s 20,300+ RSO’s to know what the can and can’t do.

3) Procedural Changes to Offender Registration to Make Compliance actually attainable  

2 Issues Exist:

Problem#1: The current “3 day” requirement for all information being submitted does not work because VSP Barracks are only open Mon-Fri 8:30 to 4:00PM, closed weekends and all holidays. Any three day weekend (Saturday, Sunday, Monday) becomes a failure to register and a Class 6 Felony. A large majority of local authorities (police and sheriff’s offices) refuse to accept registered offenders re-registration information claiming they do not have the equipment, time or personnel to participate in the registration process. The VSP is the owner and publisher with the responsibility of verifying the content and accuracy of the Virginia Sex Offender Registry as well as compliance and statute requirements. These must be aligned with the VSP hours of operation. 

Solution: The statute needs to be revised to “3 business days” or extended to “5 days”. 

Problem #2: The current 30 minute requirement to register any E-mail or IM changes in-person to a VSP Barracks is impossible. Many offenders live 2-3 hours from a VSP Barracks and they are only open Mon-Fri 8:30 to 4:00PM, closed weekends and all holidays. A failure to register within 30 minutes is a Class 6 Felony. When this law was passed in 2007 (HB2749-Hurt) it was drafted to be 3 days but then the “marijuana advocate” Roy stood up and proposed to the committee to make it 30 minutes thinking the VSP would create an electronic system to accept offender email changes, they accepted the amendment. In 2012 while defending HB416 Roy admitted this to the House Criminal Courts of Justice Sub-Committee that when he proposed the change he and the 2007 Committee expected an electronic system to be set-up, he felt terrible that for 5 years offenders were having such a difficult time complying with an impossible requirement. 

Solution: Either the VSP creates a secure (password protected) electronic system that is available 24 hours a day and sends an immediate receipt to the offender confirming the information has been received by the VSP or this statute needs to be revised to “3 business days” or “5 days” . 

Previous Virginia Legislation attempting to accomplish these 2 goals
·         2011-      HB1628 (Sent to Appropriations to “die”)
·         2012-     HB416 (“Laid on the table” instead of voting by the House Courts of Justice Criminal Sub-committee) 

4) Virginia has not implemented a 3-Tier Risk-Based Classification System and we should. 

Virginia currently has a 2-Tiered Conviction Based Classification System. Non-Violent and Violent. 

In 2006 and 2008 hundred possibly thousands of Non-Violent Offenders were retroactively reclassified to Violent by the Virginia Legislature changing their re-registration from once a year to every 90 days and their minimum time listed on the Virginia Registry from 15 years to a Lifetime.  This was done retroactively and denied them due process. I’ve submitted FOIA’s with the Virginia State Police looking for the actual quantities and I’ve been denied the data. 

When this occurred these offenders became “lifers” with no opportunity to every petition for removal. Some offenders had already been removed a few years beforehand and were returned to the Virginia Registry because of this legislation.     

These two mass legislative implementations significantly increased the costs to Virginia, including the number of registered letters being tracked, printed and mailed out 4 times a year instead of once a year as well as the man-power to be on-duty to accept the re-registration information 4 times a year per offender all upon a citizen who was originally convicted of a misdemeanor and classified as Non-Violent. 

A Risk Based classification system as opposed to the current Conviction Based system would identify those who pose a real threat to society instead of classifying them on a conviction which was mostly likely downgraded with a plea agreement. Meaning a real-threat could be currently classified as Non-Violent because they pled to a misdemeanor instead of the original felony they were facing. 

A Risk based classification system would take some time and money initially but in the long run it would save the Commonwealth millions because everyone would not be treated the same, more resources would be directed toward the higher risks whereas today they do not receive heightened monitoring. 

The offenders who get placed in the highest level won’t be happy but if they are evaluated to be the worst-of-the-worst then state resources and monitoring will be better directed towards them instead of the current process of monitoring everyone as an equal threat, when they aren’t. 

3 Tiers would also assist the public in deciphering between those who have been swept up by ever expanding laws and lowering the threshold of crime while raising the penalty.

The lowest level (Tier 1’s) could even be placed on a police registry not listed for the public; many states have such lists for the lowest level offenders like New Jersey and Massachusetts 

Implement a 3-Tier Risk Based Classification Tier 1 (lowest risk), Tier 2 (medium risk) and Tier 3 (highest risk) in Virginia! 

5) Virginia should form a Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB).

Many States have SOMB’s, they draft and propose Sex Offender Legislation, they study what does and does not work when it comes to regulations and restrictions. They have monthly public meetings where citizens, offenders, experts and victims are heard on issues of employment, housing, resources, registration, civil commitment, etc.  

An SOMB would know what is required by the Federal Adam Walsh Act/SORNA instead of guessing as we’ve seen happen during the Virginia General Assembly. They would know what reports, studies and experts in the field across the country are finding and recommending. These recommendations must be adhered to by the lawmakers. This eliminates feel good laws that serve no purpose; it takes the politics out of public safety. 

Their web-site would also become a great resource for citizens and the minutes from the meetings would be posted so those that could not travel to attend could still be apprised. 

The Boards usually consist of a Commonwealth’s Attorney, a Public Defender, a District Judge, a Juvenile Judge, a member of the Department of Corrections, a member of the Department of Probation, a member of the Department of Juvenile Justice, a member of the State Police, a State Delegate, a State Senator, 2 licensed mental health specialists in Sexual Abuse and Sex Offender Treatment, a minster of a Faith Based Group, a member of a Civil Liberties Organization, a member of a Restorative Justice Organization, a Victims Advocacy Group and a Registered Offender or family member of an offender. 

When a piece of Legislation comes from the Board into the Legislature it’s usually flawless and accepted by all sides and will succeed once implemented into the community. 

Having a SOMB in place will hopefully reduce the bills that are based on fear not facts that get submitted almost every year during the General Assembly simply to look tough on predators to their constituents. 

Virginia must have a board of people that are dedicated to Sex Offender issues, legislation, restrictions, regulations and resources; it can not be handled as a part-time job as is being done today. 

As of October 2013 there were 20,300 Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia and the number grows every year by 850-1,200 new Virginians. Plus these RSO’s have spouses, significant others, parents, siblings, roommates, children, employers and landlords so laws and restrictions impact all of these additional people as well. This population will never decrease and its time we had a board that would address their unique needs and restrictions. 

Take the politics out of policy when it comes to Sex Offenders, Civil Commitment of SVP’s and the publics perception of these Virginians!

6) Compliant Non-Violent Offenders Should be Automatically Removed on 15 Year Anniversary Instead of Petitioning the Court 

Problem: Currently for those classified as Non-Violent Sex Offenders to be removed from the Virginia Sex Offender Registry after they have served their mandated 15 years, they must petition to be removed in the court of their original conviction per  § 9.1-910 

This is a very costly and timely process, in many cases it is cost prohibitive. This keeps the registry overburdened and dilute with those who will not recidivate and adds additional cost to our Commonwealth and the courts. It also requires a judge to be willing to put their name on the removal of the citizen from the list and most judges are not willing to do this even if the offender poses no threat to society and has been compliant.

Solution: If someone has served their mandated minimum time (15 years) on the registry with exemplary behavior (no new charges, no failures to register) their removal from the registry should be automatic on their 15th anniversary.  

One piece of paperwork could be submitted by the offender 3 months ahead of their 15 year anniversary, no lawyers, no mental health experts to evaluate, no time or cost to the courts.  For those offenders that have had one or more failures to register or even a new non-sexual conviction during their 15 year period then they would be required to adhere to the current process of petitioning the court, hiring an attorney and two evaluators to testify at a hearing.  

Additionally there is a small percentage of those classified as Violent who are eligible to petition for removal after they remain on the Virginia Registry for a minimum of 25 years. This new automatic removal for those who have remained registry compliant and conviction free would also apply to this small percentage of offenders 3 months prior to their 25th anniversary. 

(The Non-Violent Offenders would fall into the Tier 1’s if Virginia were to implement a 3-Tiered Risk Based Classification system). 

7) Repeal Virginia’s 21-Day (to Recant) Rule 

Problem: Currently an accuser or witness is only allowed 21 days to recant an accusation in Virginia. Any longer and the state will not accept their recant and so the conviction and the requirement to remain on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry stands. Only DNA can reopen a conviction. 

Solution: Either repeal the 21 day limit entirely or amend it to be 21 years or add recants to the list of excepts as DNA had been added years back. 

There have been past proposals that did not pass and excluded Virginians who took a plea deal. Both Alford and Guilty, these Virginias CAN NOT be excluded when more than 94% of Virginia criminal cases in Virginia are settled with a plea deal and less than 6% of our citizens have the resources to arrive at  a jury trial. 

Virginia has repeatedly adjusted legal statutes to allow victims of abuse to come forward many years later. But when it comes to a recant by a witness it is 21 Days or NOTHING! The very same person that the Commonwealth previously based their entire case upon is now ignored. 

Every recant should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly as would be done with every new accusation of abuse no matter how old. 

There should be no deadline on the truth or clearing the name of an innocent citizen!