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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Update and Action Alert: HB1366 “Recipe for Disaster Bill” Was Heard and Amended on February 11th But No Vote Was Taken, It Has Been Postponed Until Monday February 16th at 8AM

 
Today in Senate Room B of the Virginia General Assembly Building HB1366  was heard. 

Two readers/supporters both from northern Virginia came down to oppose HB1366 to the Committee and I was extremely grateful to see them. The Executive Director of ACLU of Virginia also took the opportunity today to oppose HB1366 publicly, another positive development. Unlike in the House where I was the only one opposing HB1366, today there were 3 new faces and I believe it made a great deal of difference. Thank you both for coming! 

A vote was NOT taken, the text was rewritten once and still no member was ready to vote on it so they put it off until next Monday February 16th. 

Here is a summary of today’s events:
 

After Delegate Campbell presented his bill I approached the podium to give my 4 minute statement and I was stopped 3 paragraphs before the end by the acting Chairman who wanted to ask Legal Counsel some questions, the full statement is below. 

Senator Obenshain asked the patron “is an open ended invitation to the public needed to attend the hearing OR is your purpose achieved by giving people an opportunity to contact the Commonwealth Attorney or the school division so they can register their views” ? Senator Obenshain also said “that he is not aware of ANY other situations where we deliver an open ended invitation to come testify in court”.  

Legal Analyst to the Committee pointed out today that when the prohibition/petition process was originally crafted years ago by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee “there was a great deal of work done to try and balance the harshness of taking away an essential part of parents rights and helping them get an education. The Committee worked very hard and long on this to permit that person and many people thought that this process was burdensome but the Committee chose it in favor of safety. Notice to everyone that has a stake, getting a court order and getting permission of the school and the Committees resolution of this conundrum at the time as if they can satisfy all of these conditions then they should be able to attend to their child. That I won’t say compromise was it was because of a lot of work by this Committee. A final reminder is the Committee is always hesitant to act unless there is a need for the legislation before them, so I just wanted to add the Committee spent a great deal of time on drafting the current law 

To the patron Senator Obenshain asked the patron “Is there some middle ground that satisfies the object of providing notice to the Commonwealth’s Attorney from interested persons to contact the Commonwealth’s Attorney and allow the Commonwealth’s Attorney the ability to call witnesses perhaps that have contacted him or her? 

Delegate Campbell responded hesitantly “I suppose there could be a middle ground…..…purpose of the bill is simply to require public notice… I would say we allow a lot of sound discretion with our local circuit judges…. (inaudible)………. it would be permissible to allow the public to appear and testify, it would not be mandatory, the judge has that discretion (inaudible)……….”  

After the other 3 speakers finished Delegate Campbell responded “this isn’t a punitive deal it wasn’t intended to be punitive in anyway……it was intended to provide for transparency. Rightly or wrongly we’ve placed a label on these individuals…. on the Sex Offender list and in doing so we’ve created a veritable (inaudible)………. And the community only knows them as a Sex Offender they don’t know the facts and circumstances behind how they became a Sex Offender and when they hear in the community that these persons on the list are granted access without knowing the facts and background behind the granting of such a petition….(inaudible)……….  you have created a situation where the citizens are up in arms about it” 

Senator Stuart said “it seems to me something like this could get out of hand…. if there is a hearing where everybody could come it would be chaos, I don’t know another way to describe it” Senator Stuart then suggested to the patron to make his bill a more manageable process a way for the public to respond to the respondent and Delegate Campbell said “as long as the public gets notice he’d be fine with that”. 

Then Delegate Campbell left the room to work on the verbiage of his bill returning 30+ minutes later. 

He presented this: 

27 C. Every adult who is prohibited from entering upon school or child day center property pursuant to
28 subsection A may after notice to the attorney for the Commonwealth and either (i) the proprietor of the
29 child day center, (ii) the superintendent of public instruction and the chairman of the school board of
30 the school division in which the school is located, or (iii) the chief administrator of the school if such
31 school is not a public school, petition the circuit court in the county or city where the school or child
32 day center is located for permission to enter such property. The court shall direct that the petitioner
33 shall cause notice of the time and place of the hearing on his petition to be published once a week for
34 two successive weeks in a newspaper meeting the requirements of § 8.01-324. The court may permit
35 any person who attends the hearing to testify regarding the petition. “The text of the publication shall state that any person wishing to submit comments regarding the petition may do so by filing the same in writing to the Court at least 5 days prior to the date of the hearing. Written comments submitted from the public may be in support or opposition of the petition by the parties to the proceedings” For good cause shown, the court
36 may issue an order permitting the petitioner to enter and be present on such property, subject to
37 whatever restrictions of area, reasons for being present, or time limits the court deems appropriate. 

The members of the Committee questioned if the RSO parent would still need to pay for a newspaper advertisement for 2 weeks and Delegate Campbell replied yes. 

Two members of the Committee voiced their concerns  with the revised bill and Senator McDougle suggested HB1366 needed more rework and Delegate Campbell should do so and return next Monday’s at the 8AM Senate Courts of Justice meeting to present the final text for HB1366 for the Committee to vote on. 

I will say that today’s revised version is definitely better than the original bill but to still mandate the RSO pay for a newspaper advertisement for 2 weeks straight announcing the petition to the public for the child of the RSO to suffer the backlash from is still unacceptable and is NOT equal protection under the law. 

If you have not yet contacted all 40 Virginia Senators (see list of email's below the statement) asking them to vote “Nay” on HB1366, please do so tonight, tomorrow or Friday before they discuss the bill again at 8AM on President’s Day.

I will be in attendance Monday to listen to the Committee’s discussion and to learn what the final text of HB1366 from Delegate Campbell includes, but public comment will NOT be taken Monday as it was taken today. 

Mary Devoy

 

Mr. Chairman and Committee Members, 

This bill sailed through the House with NO discussion and NO Debate…..it passed in a “Block Vote” along with 57 other bills of varying issues…. I hope today this bill will receive appropriate attention and discussion. 

Today if a parent or grandparent of a school aged child is listed as a “Violent” Sex Offender (that’s approximately 83% of our entire Registry, so around 17,000 Virginians) and they need to be able to drop-off and pick-up their child from school or to attend ANY school sponsored activity ON of OFF school property for their child they must petition for a court order allowing them to do so. 

Most Registered Sex Offenders are parents and many of them are single without a spouse to assist in the day-to-day responsibilities. Approximately 5% of the Virginia Registry is female and many of them are mothers, likely single.  

The school superintendent and principle are allowed to oppose a parent’s petition and they usually do. The judge listens to both sides and decides if a true need is evident or not. And if the child changes school district’s the parent must start this process all over again, and the parent could be denied any time.  

With HB1366…..obviously complete strangers (especially in our smaller communities) are going to show up in droves to object to the petition spewing vitriolic opinions about someone they don’t even know. 

HB1366 creates a public spectacle of each and every petitioner’s rights as allowed by law…..harassment and intimidation tactics instead of facts would now Rule Virginia Courts.

EVERY, SINGLE petition will require additional police presence inside and out of the courthouse, to deescalate the inevitable encounters……..that could very likely become violent……it’s a recipe for disaster. 

Anyone listed on the Virginia Registry is openly hated by our citizens as it has become our government-sponsored Public List of Shame. As you should be aware, people on Sex Offender Registries have been harassed, vandalized, threatened, beaten and even killed by complete strangers due to their public posting. This mandate is an invitation for bloodthirsty vigilantes to take aim at the despised and heinous “Sexual Predator”………….all that’s missing…… is torches and pitchforks.

The fact is that those listed on our Registry have the second lowest recidivism rate of ALL crimes, but that doesn’t matter to the general public. 

This bill is NOT about public safety….. and it is NOT about the public’s right to know who is on school property…. What this bill is REALLY about is stopping the petition process all together. No parent would EVER put themselves or their children through this proposed public humiliation.

Our Rule of Law does NOT apply to a select segment of society that the majority deems worthy, it applies to ALL of society, including those who are openly despised like Registered Sex Offenders and we call this equal protection under the law. 

Creating laws and procedures only for sex crimes that are driven by visceral revulsion can ONLY result in self-defeating policies, unconstitutional laws and cruel punishments.  

Every citizen in the Commonwealth deserves a fair and impartial hearing in front of a fair and impartial judge; HB1366 creates a biased, divisive and skewed environment where a fair outcome is impossible because mob mentality will prevail. 

A vote of “No” ………simply states that you are troubled by violence in our society…..in our schools, our courthouses and our workplaces... attacks are on the rise I am concerned what will happen when we openly invite this dynamic to our courtrooms. 

HB1366 is draconian……cruel………and I hope……beneath us all.
 

40 Virginia Senators: