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Friday, February 13, 2015

Robby’s Rule (HB1353-Ramadan and SB1074-McDougle/Wexton) Continues a Historical Trend in America of Bad Legislation Named After a Victim; So No Virginia Lawmaker Would Dare Question or Vote Against it.

 
 
HB1353  AKA “Robby’s Rule” which passed through the Virginia House with a vote of 93 Yeas – 6 Nays 

Breakdown by Delegate: 

YEAS--Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, BaCote, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Berg, Bloxom, Bulova, Byron, Campbell, Carr, Cline, Cole, Cox, Davis, DeSteph, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Futrell, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Herring, Hester, Hodges, Hugo, Ingram, James, Joannou, Jones, Keam, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lindsey, Lingamfelter, Lopez, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Mason, Massie, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, Minchew, Morefield, Morris, Morrissey, Murphy, O'Bannon, O'Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Plum, Pogge, Poindexter, Preston, Ramadan, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Rust, Scott, Sickles, Simon, Spruill, Stolle, Taylor, Torian, Tyler, Villanueva, Ward, Ware, Watts, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Yost, Mr. Speaker--93 

NAYS--Hope, Kory, Krupicka, Rasoul, Sullivan, Surovell--6. 

ABSTENTIONS--0.  

NOT VOTING--Toscano--1 

 …. is scheduled to be heard by the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee this coming Monday February 16th (President’s Day) at 8AM. 

This will be the last time public comment will be heard on HB1353. 

I wrote an editorial on the two (House and Senate) versions of Robby’s Rule 2015 last week and sent it to every Virginia newspaper; none of them chose to run it. 

So I’m posting it here today.
 
Mary
 

Legislators in America have known for a very long time that if they name a bill (proposed legislation) after a victim of a crime to memorialize them, that it’s almost guaranteed to become law. 

We’ve had the Jacob Wetterling Act, the Adam Walsh Act, Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law, Dru’s Law and  Chelsea’s Law  just to name a few. Then there are Amber Alerts and Code Adam for lost children in stores.  

When a name is attached to a law it stirs up deep emotion of wanting to honor that victim, to honor their family members and it evokes mantras of “never again”, “if it saves one child” and “this is common sense legislation” claims and stances no lawmaker would ever argue against. To vote against a proposal bearing the name of a victim would be heartless, it would dishonor their memory and it would make the crime they suffered through meaningless.  

When a bill named after a victim is heard in House or Senate Committees one of two outcomes usually occur. 
 

Either the lawmakers tout false claims like high recidivism rates for Sex Offenders, or they claim “once a Sex Offender always a Sex Offender” or “every Sex Offender has 100 victims before finally being caught by the authorities” both claims are false, but used to push the flawed legislation through the process. Or the lawmakers don’t discuss the actual nuts-and-bolts of proposal at all. They simply allow the bill’s namesake to address the Committee about their abuse and their abuser, their anger toward their abuser and their feelings of injustice by the system. If anyone dares to speak against the proposal pointing out collateral consequences to innocent citizens, possible denial of due process or violations of ex post facto the lawmakers sit there silently allowing the person to finish and then with no discussion nor debate they pass the bill forward, unanimously.  The latter outcome has occurred in both the Virginia Senate and House in the  first half of the 2015 General Assembly session with HB1353-Ramadan and SB1074-McDougle/Wexton also known as Robby’s Rule. 

What does Robby’s Rule, the creation of a Supplemental Sex Offender Registry on the Virginia State Police website do?

Well supporters would tell you that adding pre-July 1994 sex crimes (when the VSP Sex Offender Registry was created) all the way back to July 1980 is simply “fixing a loophole” and that felony convictions are already a matter of public record and this proposal is just correcting that error, they have also stated that these unregistered Virginians have “fallen through the cracks”.  

Both claims are untrue but they sound urgent and create fear, when fear wins, everyone loses. 

What Robby’s Rule 2015 actually does is gather all court records in Virginia from July 1980 to July 1994 for sex crimes that would require registration as a public Sex Offender in 2015 and post them online as a “Supplemental” Sex Offender, with no due process. The name of the person convicted from 3 decades ago would be posted, the jurisdiction of the conviction would be posted, the age at conviction would be posted and the criminal statute of the conviction would be posted. 

No one will confirm if the person is alive or dead in 2015, no one will confirm if the person still resides in Virginia in 2015 or if they’ve moved to Florida, New York or Ohio. There will be no photo posted, there will be no address posted, their will be no current age posted and no race. 

The 1980 conviction could have been a misdemeanor but in 2015 it most likely is a felony so when the public clicks on the 2015 statute they will read about a FELONY making the information meaningless but appearing to be significant.  

Mistaken identity of innocent Virginians will be the most serious collateral consequence of Robby’s Rule.  

Anyone who shares the same name as someone posted on the Supplemental Registry will be presumed guilty because there is no photograph, no current address, no race and no current age to rule out the innocent person. 

Innocent Virginians who share the same name with someone convicted of a sex crime will notice co-workers don’t chat with them anymore, they are denied promotions or perhaps they lose their jobs for no reason, they’ve become unemployable. Their neighbors will no longer look them in the eye, organizations they volunteered with for years aren’t calling them, and maybe their landlord refuses to renew their lease and every application for a new rental is denied one after another.  

These are all the consequence of being on the “Regular” VSP Registry, with the addition of the “Supplemental” Registry, innocent Virginians will experience the same.  

Suspicion of presumed guilt is a damaging reality. 

These innocent people with the same name will have no recourse, no way to clear their name, no way to prove to everyone they are innocent, that they are not the person who is listed. Search for your first and last name sometime, are you the only one with this name in Virginia? You may be surprised, and can only hope no one sharing this name will be listed on the new VSP Registry. 

Lives, careers and reputations will be ruined. 

In the last 3 weeks I have raised all of these issues to every Virginia Senator and Delegate, to Rob Buswell (Robby), to Camille Cooper of PROTECT who has stood in support of these bills and to numerous Commonwealth Attorneys who also support it and to the Virginia State Police who wrote the bill, word for word. Sadly; not one of them is concerned that innocent Virginians will become collateral damage.  

Why?  

The 2015 version of Robby’s Rule saves the state of Virginia money, a lot of money. The 2014 version of the proposal would not have lead to mistaken identities but it did have a fiscal impact of $1.69 million. The 2015 version is around $26,000 because no one at the VSP is confirming the person is still alive, or that they still reside in Virginia, and no current address, photograph or description is required. 

The 2015 version of Robby’s Rule is an unverified “data dump” onto the VSP website that will never be updated. 

Rob Buswell has one goal with Robby’s Rule, to get his abusers pre-1994 sex conviction posted on-line and if that means a bill that produces a law that damages hundreds of innocent Virginians and posts outdated unverified data on-line, he is fine with that. I understand his anger and desire for vengeance but why would 140 Virginia Legislators, the Virginia State Police, Commonwealths’ Attorneys and the Legislative Liaison for PROTECT support a bill that WILL destroy the lives of innocent Virginians? 

It is because not one of them wants to appear to dishonor the victim of a sex crime whose name appears in the title of the bill. 

Robby’s Rule 2015 will most likely become law in Virginia this year and when citizens who have never committed a sex crime are presumed guilty because they share a name with someone posted on the new VSP Supplemental Registry we will all know how this poorly written (but cheap) law came to exist. No Monday morning quarterback analyst is required, I’ve raised the flag in time to stop it but everyone has willfully ignored my points. 

This is what happens when we ask and allow our elected-officials to name legislation after victims in Virginia.

Robby’s Rule 2015 should have been amended or voted down but everyone involved in the process has chosen to look the other way and gave the namesake what he wants no matter what the human cost. At least there wasn’t much of a fiscal cost, except to those who will lose their jobs and/or homes as fiscal impact statements don’t take into account the fiscal cost to individual citizens.

The unaccounted costs of poorly written legislation in Virginia will be on its citizens.