I’m not sure what’s going on in Tennessee. Lately there seems to be an avalanche of bills proposed challenging the rights of registrants. Most of these bills seem to serve no purpose other than to intimidate and scare the bejeezus out of registrants and then, if passed, make their lives more difficult.
Rep. Doggett has the “no registrants sleeping in a home with minor children” bill.
Rep. Griffey has his “let’s chemically castrate all registrants on parole” bill.
Now, here comes Rep. Patsy Hazlewood with HB1922 that would supposedly make it easier for registrants to attend places of worship. The registrant would need to identify themselves as a “sex offender registrant”, in writing, to the leadership of the place of worship they want to attend. They would then need “written permission” from that leader to attend religious services or any support or educational classes held there.
When I see bills such as Rep. Hazlewood’s, I’m often conflicted. Is this a genuine attempt by a legislator to put a band-aid on the enormous registry problem that they know exists or is it yet another restriction that gives the impression that the legislator is doing something to keep their constituents safe, in this case, requiring registrants to get “written permission” from (church, synagogue, temple, etc.) leaders before they are able to fully participate as part of the religious community?
From my own past experience, there is no faster or cattier grapevine than a “house of worship grapevine” And not to disrespect anyone, but pastors, priests, deacons, rabbis and other religious officials, just like anyone else, have been guilty on occasion of engaging in the gossip. So, I can only imagine the tongues wagging in the pews on Sunday morning when word is leaked that the worship leader received a letter from a “sex offender” who wants permission to participate in the congregational activities.
I frequently email legislators. Legislators propose bills that will affect you, even if you’re not in their district. Of course, if you’re not one of their constituents and can’t be counted on to cast a ballot in their favor at the next election, you seldom receive a written response.
I emailed Rep. Hazlewood, she’s not my district representative so I had no high hopes of a response, but I wanted to understand why she thought treating registrants like 5 yr. old’s, making them get signed permission slips to attend a religious facility, was a good idea.
Surprisingly, Rep. Hazlewood responded with her impetus for the proposed HB1922, and in a nutshell, here is what she said. “Currently a parolee was prohibited from attending religious services, support and educational classes that occurred on Wednesday nights and various other days because of presence restrictions. Because of the parolee’s distance limitations and the fact that this facility has or is near daycare, schools or other childcare operations, their attendance would be prohibitive while on parole. This bill would alleviate that issue, allowing registrants to attend religious, support and or educational functions.” (In a subsequent email she indicated that this could include groups such as AA mtgs, many of which are located in religious facility community rooms.)
While I understand that Rep. Hazlewood’s proposed bill is a band-aid fix for a much larger problem and her clarification of the bill was appreciated, there remained concerns that she didn’t address. I’m not certain that she fully understands that it’s not just those on parole that have to deal with presence restrictions, those restrictions are for anyone on the registry and they extend long-after parole ends. Also, having to get “written and signed permission” from the leader of a house of worship doesn’t quite sit well with me. Are we now bringing religion into state run registries? Do we require any kind of written and signed permission slips from any other group of former offenders? What’s next? Will registrants be required to obtain written and signed permission slips from the grocery store manager before they can enter the store? It’s all too, too much.
I think Rep. Hazlewood’s heart is in the right place. Her bill would allow someone, I’m guessing one of her constituents, who is currently on parole, to attend worship services, support and educational groups. But this is a band-aid fix for a gaping wound we know as “the registry”.
We’ve become weary of band-aid fixes. If the registry was used as it was originally intended, most registrants wouldn’t be prohibited from so many locales in the first place. We wouldn’t need band-aid bill proposals to fix the imaginary problems that the registry itself has created.
Our representatives need to begin looking at the bigger picture. They need to address the entire registry, not try to fix it one band-aid at a time, that will never work, the infected, festering, gaping wound that the registry has become is just too big.
Whatever state you live in, keep abreast of the bills your legislators are proposing. Contact your legislators, voice your concerns, put your two cents in when it comes to bills that affect you.
Even if legislators don’t respond, you are actively participating in that which affects your life. And if we all participate and let our voices be heard, eventually we will make a difference.