Saturday, March 18, 2017

Farewell Legislative Goal #2, You Were Extremely Worthy but the Virginia State Police Opposed You for More than 7 Years…..So They Won, While Virginians Lost

I am redoing my Legislative Goal page this weekend. One of the changes that may be noticed on that page is Goal #2 is not what it used to be. That’s because I’ve removed it and am no longer working on it. 

But I wanted to be sure Goal #2 is documented on this site because I spent a lot of time over 8 Virginia General Assemblies trying to accomplish Goal #2 but at every turn the Virginia State Police Legislative Liaisons became a barrier, with different excuses or demands every session. 

So this Post today is a look back at 8 years of trying to get one simple and necessary reform accomplished in Virginia and the unbelievable push-back that occurred.

What is the problem or problems, what are the possible solutions, steps taken to achieve those solutions, who objected and how did they object and where are we today. Are we better off? NO we aren’t. Read on.

Mary Devoy

Original Goal #2 was, written notice of all Legal Restrictions /Regulations that all Registered Sex Offenders (RSO) must abide by in Virginia be given. 

When new "Sex Offender" laws are passed in Virginia, including restricting their movement, their employment, their housing or what information is mandated to be submitted within a specific timeframe by the Offender, they are NOT notified of the change in law, but yet are obligated to follow the new rule.

These specific laws passed by the Virginia Legislature carry a penalty of a Class 6 Felony, even if the original conviction requiring registration was a misdemeanor. These laws are not intuitive but yet RSO’s are expected not to violate them. 

When a Virginian is under DOC Probation they receive a complete list of rules that they sign to acknowledge receipt. Then if the Probationer breaks a rule, they face the legal consequences for the violation. 

But the Commonwealth makes no effort  to advise Registered Sex Offenders (RSO's) and their “Rules of the Game” change yearly when new retroactive laws are passed and if they "guess" incorrectly they face up to 5 years in prison. An extremely high cost paid for by Virginians for an arbitrary felony based on an administrative act (the VSP Registry). 

If a law (that originally required a fiscal impact) is important enough for the Virginia Legislature to pass, is it NOT equally important to inform those citizens it is intended to manage? 

States like North Carolina, Illinois & Indiana advise their RSO’s of their legal obligations at every re-registration and Illinois & Kentucky notify their RSO's of new changes in law. 

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

The first copy would be 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 including to be mailed to those RSO’s without Internet access.

Plus 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 . How do we fix this? The VSP needs to be regularly/consistently disseminating current AND correct information. 

Finally there are Federal requirements for RSO’s who want to travel internationally and are NOT under Probation supervision, but yet the VSP does not advise Virginia’s RSO’s of those requirements or deadlines and they should. 

Past Legislation attempting to accomplish this:
Ø       2009-HB2225 Del. Marsden
-          (Failed in Militia, Police and Safety Sub-Committee, VSP Legislative Liaison told the House Committee, “we already advise the Offenders”. No, no they didn’t!)
Ø       2010- HB1328 Del. Pogge         
-          (“Died on the vine”, VSP openly opposed it, the VSP Legislative Liaison claimed to the patron, if we did this “that would be giving legal advise” No, no won’t be. The VSP posted online about Concealed Handgun Permit Reciprocity and Recognition changes in 2015)  
Ø       2011-  HB2382 Del. Pogge       
-          (“Died on the vine”, VSP openly opposed it the VSP Legislative Liaison claimed to the patron, “we can do this administratively, no need for legislation)
Ø       2012- SB420 –Sen. Marsden      
-          (Passed the Virginia Senate 40-0 to then be stopped in House Courts of Justice Criminal Sub-Committee, VSP openly opposed it)
Ø       2014- SB553 –Sen. Marsden     
-          (Continued until 2015) 

Then at the 2015 Virginia  General Assembly session the Virginia State Police (VSP) convinced Senator Dave Marsden if they were to ever create and distribute a list of Do’s and Don’ts that RSO’s shouldn’t be able to claim they never received it or it was outdated as a defense for a failure-to-register. This demand by the VSP confirmed for me that they never planned to actually distribute the laws to every RSO OR to maintain and distribute updated versions when the laws change retroactively every year. The VSP even drafted up two versions of a brochure in an attempt to convince Virginia lawmakers they were ready to disseminate the laws to Virginia’s RSO’s. The 1st draft didn’t tell Virginia’s RSO’s anything; it was a PR promotion for the VSP Registry, not what I had been lobbying for since 2009. Their 2nd version (that was extremely similar to my 2014 brochure) was presented to the 2015 GA members.  

The 2015 proposed bill for an RSO not to claim they never received a VSP brochure or were given out-dated information if they faced a charge of failure to register due to an unknown restriction was SB1374-Sen. Marsden. I had action items to oppose it on January 20, 2015 , February 1, 2015 , February 2, 2015 , February 14, 2015 and February 17, 2015 and in the 2nd chamber it failed. 

If the only way to get the VSP to disseminate the restrictions and regulations to Virginia’s RSO’s is for them to wash their hands of any responsibility or liability to actually disseminate, then I gave up lobbying for this goal. But EVRYONE needs to know how the VSP fought against this initiative that I started especially any RSO’s who are charged with a violation that became law years after their conviction. 

In late-2015 the VSP’s 2nd draft Brochure was handed out sporadically in some areas of the State, but not consistently. 

It took until mid-2016 for the VSP to post their Brochure online 

And as of 2017 the VSP brochures:
·                     Are NOT on the counters of the VSP Locations for RSO’s to see or take
·                     Are NOT on the counters of Local Authorities (Police or Sheriff’s) Locations that take RSO re-registration information for the RSO’s to see or take
·                     Are NOT given out by the VSP employees taking registration or re-registration information
·                     Are NOT given out by the Local Authorities (Police or Sheriff’s) taking re-registration information
·                     Are NOT included in the VSP re-registration notifications that go out to every RSO that the VSP continues to insist on mailing USPS certified- mail, instead of moving to a rotating system.
·                     Are NOT consistently given out by the VSP employees who are performing the twice per year residence checks.  

It’s unknown if VA-DOC Probation Officers are giving these brochures out or not. And if so, is it consistent across the State?