Some of you may not know this, but the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio is a significant place to the Anti-Registry Movement. It was the location of the first successful public demonstration against the Adam Walsh Act in December 2007, known as the "Silent No More" rally. However, I haven't been to Columbus since that time. Thankfully, Ohio hasn't been a hotbed for bad legislation, with only a few bad laws making it into legislation. But this year, Ohio wanted to remind us they are still willing to make asinine bills by introducing HB 353, a bill that will require registered citizens to turn over information on all adults living in their households to the registry office.
Yesterday's House Judiciary Committee meeting was the second hearing on this bill, and it was only for "proponent testimony" (i.e., testimony from those in favor of the bill). The good news is there was only one proponent testifying in person. Nancy Tapocsi is the mother of a woman dating a registered citizen who was convicted of "importuning" (trying to meet a 15-year-old online who was really an undercover agent). There isn't really much to say about her testimony-- she says the registrant lied to her about why he went to prison and he's a "child predator." At the end of her spiel, she ends adds, "I am praying that House Bill 353 passes. The safety of children should come before the privacy of registered sex offenders. Everyone who lives with a sexual predator deserves to know it. Criminals are notoriously good at lying. If this bill saves just one child from being molested, it will be worth it."
According to the House Judiciary page, there is also a written statement in favor of this bill from Melissa Litteral, President of the Ohio Chief Probation Officers Association. It is a brief, one page statement which claims registrants aren't telling people living with them or people they are dating they are on the registry.
I was more concerned with the statements in support of HB 405, which will increase penalties for "importuning." Here, the sex offender myth rhetoric was thick. After hearing this, I am convinced we need to establish our position on every bill that impacts "sex offender" issues, no matter how mundane, because the same tired myths (they all reoffend, can't be cured, etc) continue to be bandied about. Legislators must be exposed to the facts.
We need as many folks as possible to oppose HB 353, in person if possible. We don't have a time limit for speeches, though they encourage us to keep it brief. I have covered many basic facts in a one-page position paper (see statement below) but maybe some of you might think of things I haven't considered. We need emotional impact statements as well. You don't have to be a great orator (I never claim to be a great speaker), just make your voice heard. I will know who all sends opposition statements because they will be published on the Ohio legislative website, so if you are afraid to put your name out there, use an alias or your initials or maybe just your first name and last initial. Send your opposition statements or sign up to oppose in person to Jim Butler's aide Jeff.Dillon@ohiohouse.gov
Here is an opposition statement I took to Rep. Butler's office before yesterday's hearing:
ReFORM-OHIO STRONGLY OPPOSES OHIO HB 353
Anti-Registry Movement activists often use the expression, "When someone is forced to register, the entire family registers," but it seems Ohio is taking this expression too literally with the introduction of HB 353.
Why we oppose HB 353:
1. Invasion of privacy: HB 353 requires registrants to give private information of people not required to register as sex offenders to government agents. This includes a spouse or live-in lover, adult children of the registrant, and even unrelated individuals, (like a roommate). The right to privacy is a fundamental right, protected by the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, & 14th Amendments to the US Constitution. (See http://www.livescience.com/37398-right-to-privacy.html)
2. Personal info is at risk: In November 2011, Watch Systems, the private corporation Ohio pays to maintain the state’s registry at a cost of half a million dollars a year, mistakenly added DOZENS of names to the state sex offender registry. It was the result of “human error.” It took them two weeks to identify and correct the problem. (See http://www.10tv.com/content/stories/2011/11/02/columbus-sex-offender-registry-mistake.html) If Watch Systems, a private for-profit corporation, cannot be trusted with publishing the right information of registered citizens, it is only a matter of time until “human error” publishes the personal information of non-registrants?
3. Personal lives are at risk: In a 2005 study by University of Louisville criminologist Richard Tewksbury in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 47 percent of 121 sex offenders reported they'd been harassed as a result of being on a state registry, and 16 percent said that they'd been assaulted; among nearly 600 immediate family members of offenders that Tewksbury and Lynn University researcher Jill Levenson surveyed, 44 percent said they'd been threatened or harassed by neighbors as a result of their relative's sex-offender status, 27 percent that their property had been damaged, and 7 percent that they'd been physically assaulted or injured. A 2005 study in the same journal by Levenson and Leo Cotter, who directs a Florida sex-offender outpatient program, reported that 21 percent of 183 offenders had their property damaged by a person who found out about their status. (see http://prospect.org/article/life-list).
4. Ohio WILL be sued: When Florida mistakenly labeled a man a “sex offender,” he sued. (See http://jacksonville.com/news/crime/2013-12-26/story/mistaken-id-sex-offender-brings-lawsuit). This bill WILL cost the state millions in litigation alone, in addition to the added costs of sending letters to folks who are likely to chunk the letter in the trash.
5. Assumes non-registrants are stupid: It is asinine to assume adults living with a registered citizen are so stupid as to not know he or she is living with a registered citizen. There are numerous disruptions in the lives of registered citizens and their families as the result of the CONTROVERSIAL Adam Walsh Act, a bill rejected by two-thirds of US states.
We strongly urge the legislature to REJECT HB 353!
Derek W. Logue
On behalf of ReFORM-OHIO