Opinion: Virginia lawmakers unfairly target registered citizens

By Mary Davye Devoy . . . The 2018 Virginia General Assembly session is my 10th as a volunteer advocate for a smarter Virginia Sex Offender Registry. I use more than 20 years of data to support my work and offer fact-based recommendations for improving the laws.

In that time, I have watched as Virginia delegates and senators take a stance on one bill because it affects something or someone they support, but then they ignore that exact same stance on another bill because it affects something or someone they do not support.

Is this inconsistency? Is it cherry-picking? Is it hypocrisy? Whatever you want to call it, it’s 100 percent intentional and dishonorable.

In a Senate Courts of Justice Committee hearing held Jan. 17, members discussed a bill that would have made procession of a firearm a felony for anyone who had been served with a protective order for family abuse more than 24 hours earlier. Senators closely questioned the bill because the firearm owners wouldn’t be notified of this law so they could avoid committing a felony.

The chairman said that no notification “lends him great pause.” Then he voted against the bill, as did two other senators, and it moved onto the Senate Finance Committee, where its chances of moving forward are slim. Whether you support this bill or not, I would hope that most people would agree that if a law is directed at a specific group of people, those folks should be notified when necessary so they do not unintentionally commit a felony.

Then on Jan. 22, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee met. One of the bills discussed was SB 49. It would require all Virginia registered sex offenders who evacuate to an emergency shelter to notify the shelter security that they are on the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry.

I did not oppose this bill. Instead, I asked the committee for reasonable amendments. I reminded the committee that every time the legislature retroactively passes a new law directed at those already listed on the VSP registry, no notification is given by the state to those the law affects.

SB 49 would result in a felony if a registered sex offender does not self-disclose his or her status to the shelter security, so an amendment was needed to require the state police to notify registrants in writing as soon as the governor signs the bill into law, before it takes effect.

After all, having the registered sex offenders self-disclose is the goal, not arresting them for a felony by trapping them under law they didn’t know about, right?

The same Senate Courts of Justice Committee that repeatedly questioned the lack of notification for firearm owners ignored my concern and request for notification. Not one of the senators had any “great pause.”

Another bill moving through the 2018 session also needs amending to require notification to those on the registry. HB 622, which proposes retroactively banning the majority of nonviolent registered sex offenders from being on school property or attending school-sponsored functions, could result in felony charges as of July 1.

Currently these parents, grandparents and guardians (many of whom are without a spouse to pitch in) are taking their kids to and from school, sporting events, band practice, etc. They are legally attending parent-teacher conferences, award ceremonies and graduation, and picking up children when they are sick.

When the General Assembly made a similar change in a law in 2008, it too was retroactive, and no notice was given to those it affected. On July 1, 2008, the prohibited action became a felony. Schools were notified of the change in the law (either by their lobbyists or by the state), so after the law took effect and those registered sex offender parents, grandparents or guardians came onto school property for legitimate reasons, school staff members called the police and the registrants were arrested.

The Virginia General Assembly and our governor need to stop intentionally writing and passing retroactive laws against those with old convictions. It’s despicable and cruel.

Mary Davye Devoy has been a volunteer advocate for data-driven reform of the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and laws since October 2008.



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