Like many of you, before I knew someone on the registry or became involved in advocacy, I never gave much thought to how our justice system worked. I knew very little about how or why state bills were proposed and even less about who was responsible for getting them pushed through to a vote. I naively assumed my state representatives were looking out for my best interests and those of my family, friends and neighbors when proposing and voting on key issues.
Boy, was I wrong.
Now that I’ve got a stake in this, now that I know people on the registry and I see the uphill battle they are fighting, often with their hands tied because they can’t access the internet to do research, I got involved. I started small, researching registrant issues and the proposed bills that might affect them. I began writing innumerable letters and sending countless emails to state representatives and government officials. I did whatever I could to educate myself to help fight this maddening registry.
This blog is for those using the same excuses I once used “I can’t help, I don’t have time, I don’t know where to begin, what I say or think won’t make any difference, nothing’s ever going to change.”
Here’s an example of a proposed bill in TN, but it could be in any state, it could be in your state. And here’s one small example of how you might make a difference.
TN Senate Bill 425/House Bill 407 proposes an increase from 1000 ft to 2000 ft for residency and presence restrictions for registrants and to change the current laws restricting registrants, even registrants that are parents of minors, from residing within the same residence as minors.
It seemed like an outrageous proposal to me, knowing what we know about registrants. Registrants have low re-offense rates, evidence has proven boundaries keep no one safer, that they do more harm than good and that registrants belong in supportive family settings. I decided to reach out to the Senator and House Representative who proposed the bill to find out where they got their “evidence of need” for this bill. I wanted to make certain they had done some research prior to proposing it.
First I contacted the TN State Senator. I briefly explained that I was doing research on all the TN bills that are being proposed that have to do with “sex offenders”. (You’d be surprised at how many bills have wording hidden in them having to do with more restrictions for registrants.) I asked the Senator where I could locate the research information that the bill was based on, any professional journals, state or government articles, statistics, etc. that were used as evidence that the bill was necessary.
I received a short reply that the Bill was actually brought to the Senator by the House Rep. so he would be the one to ask. (Sounded like he was passing the buck but I was assured my email would be forwarded and someone from the House Rep.’s office would be in touch.)
I waited 10 days and heard not a word.
I emailed the House Rep. with the same request. I inquired as to where he had obtained the information, upon which the need for this bill was based. Section 4 of the Bill clearly states that “the public’s welfare requires it”. Surely there must be some new empirical evidence for its basis if public welfare was in danger.
But no, there was no new evidence.
Although the House Rep. was kind enough to respond to my inquiry, his response which follows was a bit unsettling.
Here is what he responded, “The impetus for this bill was based on my own experiences in law enforcement in the district where I reside.” He goes on to say that “from his past experience, registrants from surrounding states were relocating to TN because of its lax sex offender laws. And that there have been several children assaulted by “sex offenders” in the past few years in his area.” After consultation with law enforcement and court officials he put forth this bill to deal with the pressing issue.
Is that all it takes to propose a bill? Someone’s personal experience? Shouldn’t there be some empirical evidence to substantiate what they are proposing, not just their “well, in my experience….”?
This is a Bill that may be voted on by Senate & House Representatives, a Bill that would affect the lives of all registrants living in TN. Will the legislators only hear the House Rep.’s viewpoint from his “personal experience” and nothing else? How can they vote wisely when they don’t have all the facts?
If we want “change” then we need to be willing to stand up and do something to make that happen.
This Bill may or may not make it to the House floor for a vote? I don’t know, but I’m not willing to take the chance that the House Rep.’s “personal experience” is all that the other legislators will ever hear before they vote. I am making certain that all the legislators hear both sides of the issue, not just one side.
Every day I send out a few emails to those Senators and House Representatives that will have a vote if this Bill comes up. I want them to have all the facts about registrants, facts based on research and empirical evidence. I want them to know the statistics, the low re-offense rate, the difficulty registrants have finding jobs and housing with the current restrictions and how detrimental further restrictions will be not only to registrants but to their families as well.
If this Bill comes to a vote I want my state legislators to take into consideration the research I’ve done to present them with facts. I want them to remember my emails and letters, above and beyond the thoughtlessly proposed bill of a Rep. whose only facts are his own personal experience.
Will my letter writing and emailing make a difference? I don’t know, I can only hope. The legislators proposing the Bill want to push it thru by July 2019.
No matter how small or inconsequential, we each need to play some small part, even if it’s just sending emails and writing letters to your state representatives. Perhaps when the next registrant issue comes up for a vote, your words will still resonate in their ears, perhaps your letter or email will make a difference in the way they choose to vote. That’s how we will change things.
To do something, is more productive than to do nothing.