Dear Faithful Readers,
(Thank you to those of you who are, indeed, faithful!)
Yesterday, my state RSOL group, Arkansas Time After Time, (ATAT) and I attended our first senate committee meeting at the Arkansas state capitol to testify against SB12.
This bill is intended to amend an existing law that was passed in 2011, that prohibits any level 3 or level 4 offender from visiting any government owned swimming pool (which even includes any "adult only" pools at senior centers, etc.) The amendment was to include any state park having a water feature like a swimming pool, swimming area, beach, and/or also a playground.
Since so many of Arkansas' beautiful state parks include water features and playgrounds, this means they will be off limits to these offenders. The presenter of the bill even put this bill under a "state of emergency" because the summer months are fast approaching and these parks will soon be filled by innocent little kids.
This bill was drafted because two state park employees (sorry, I failed to get their names) approached Senator Irvin and requested this amendment because, and I quote, "There was a registered sex offender found to be hanging around a playground."
Two years ago, when Arkansas legislation was underway, there were numerous bills being presented and my friends and I struggled to attend every single session waiting for these bills to be addressed. The first hearing I attended, I went to testify against a house bill adding residency restrictions for lower level offenders. I was given an opportunity to testify, and spent a good long ten minutes reading my lengthy spiel, and as I spoke, I noticed every committee member was looking at me and listening intently. They asked me questions. Even when I finished, I said, "I have more, if there is still time," and the committee chairman, who was clearly very interested in what I had to say, said, "Please, go on."
Weeks later, after attending every senate committee hearing waiting for this bill to be presented, I was once again given an opportunity to address the committee and I had a very similar reaction and response to my experience with the house committee. Committee members asked me relevant questions and was very respectful. The bill did not go forward and eventually died.
Yesterday, there was a short list of bills on the agenda, and the very first bill to be addressed was SB12 (after all, summer is quickly approaching and WE MUST PROTECT THE CHILDREN!)
My friends and I were given a chance to testify, but as I was speaking, I looked around at the committee members and only one person was facing me. The rest were either playing with their phones, writing, reading or shuffling papers, or playing with their ink pens. The one person who was facing me was Senator Stubblefield and as I spoke about how this law would affect FAMILIES and CHILDREN of sex offenders, his only response to me was, "Well, I think we need to consider the victims."
I did ask the committee, as I began, "How many offenders have been arrested for being at a swimming pool since this law was enacted two years ago?" and "What about this ONE offender that you spoke of having been found lingering at a playground? Was he there with his family or children?" Neither question was answered, and I have to say I am flabbergasted that no one seemed to have answers to these extremely relevant questions.
Next, my friend and Executive Director for ATAT, Carla Swanson, testified against the bill and she reiterated very eloquently that very few sex offenders ever reoffend and that most sex crimes happen within the home or with someone the victim knows, and that stranger danger is very rare.
While she was speaking, we noticed committee members and members of the audience snickering at us.
The contrast between yesterday and the experiences I had two years ago were astounding. We were not given any respect whatsoever or asked any relevant questions.
The chairman asked if anyone else had anything to say and our friend and fellow ATAT member, Linda, raised her hand. The chairman sternly stated she would only be allowed to speak if she had something different that what had already been presented.
Since Senator Stubblefield had mentioned his concern for the victims, Linda proceeded to give a very moving testimony on how she, herself, was a victim to multiple rapes by numerous family members, but yet she has gotten help and has learned to forgive and move on, as she put it, "let go and let God." She went on to say that most offenders are sorry for what they have done and are only trying to get on with their lives and they just want a second chance.
After Linda's testimony, a well-known Arkansas criminal defense lawyer, Jeff Rosenzweig, (http://www.arcriminaldefense.com/) testified against the bill, citing the monetary challenges this law would present. I've seen Mr. Rosenzweig testify many times before, in fact, I never once attended a session in 2011 without seeing him present. It is obvious to me he cares about sex offender issues.
The committee addressed Senator Irvin and asked her for the definitions to each of the four levels of sex offenders. I wish I had a tape recorder. She stated that "most level 3 and level 4 offenders are all repeat offenders", which is absolutely FALSE! Mr. Rosenzweig immediately corrected her, thank God, but I felt the committee should have thrown out her bill right then for LYING to them.
In Senator Irvin's closing statements, she shared a story about how her daughter's best friend was molested by someone at school. The man had committed sex crimes against family members before and was never prosecuted, so when the school did a background check on him, did not discover his crimes, and he went on to molest children at school. He was NOT a registered sex offender, the registry did not and would not have helped save this child from this crime. Once again, the sex offender registry proved itself as being USELESS.
While this is definitely a sad, sad story, I FAIL TO SEE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THIS STORY AND THE NEED FOR THIS LAW IN STATE PARKS!!!!
Wasn't anyone listening?
The vote was taken and the bill was passed.
There are SO many problems with this law. As one of our ATAT members pointed out in an email I received, what is the definition of a "beach"? Is it where the water meets the shore? Does it include the sandy area of the shore? Does it include the surrounding picnic tables and restroom facilities? What if a sex offender is out on a lake, water skiing and he is suddenly whipped into a swimming area by accident. Wouldn't this be considered a crime? What about inter-tubing or canoeing? I've been canoeing many, many times with my family. We always pull up to a sandy beach for breaks to eat sandwiches and apply more sun-block. Other families pull up to the same area, and they almost always have kids. The kids swim in the area. Would this not constitute a "swimming area"? Sometimes there are even signs posted, "swim at your own risk". This is a clear indication that the area is frequently used for swimming.
There are so many gray areas with this law, and I wouldn't want to be a sex offender facing a judge who is going to use his or her discretion over whether or not I have actually committed a crime. YIKES!!!
I would still like to know, how many offenders have been arrested for being at a swimming pool since 2011? Why was this information not provided? Why wasn't it considered relevant? I would still like to know about that ONE guy that was found lingering at a playground. What's his story? Why was he there? I'm willing to bet he had a legitimate reason for being there, he probably brought his kids because they wanted their daddy to take them to the park.
How do they plan to enforce this law? And, how much would it cost to enforce this law?
I wanted to suggest to the committee that if they needed to pass some feel-good law about sex offenders that they should at least consider stating that the offender would be prohibited from these areas alone. That one key word would have allowed these guys to enjoy these wonderful parks WITH THEIR FAMILIES, which is all any of us want, because we all know this law, the way it is written WILL affect FAMILIES and especially CHILDREN!
If I saw a man "lingering" at a playground, and I notice that he is, in fact, there all alone, then that would be enough for me to be concerned, and it wouldn't matter to me one iota if he was a registered sex offender or not. (Perhaps that is because I am armed with the knowledge that it is a FACT that about 95% of all new sex crimes are NOT committed by someone on the registry, and I know how useless the registry is in protecting children.)
I have never and would never leave my children unattended at a playground or a swimming area, pool or beach. I am responsible for their safety and I do not put my faith in others, or worse, some stupid law, to protect my kids. In almost every abduction case out there, as rare as they are, the child was almost always left alone and vulnerable.
I have never once seen a case where a registered sex offender visited a state park with their family and/or friends and snatched a kid for the purpose of committing a sexual crime in the presence of their own family or friends. I challenge anyone out there to find me such a case to justify this law. It just does not happen.
This law is nothing but a fluffy feel-good law that will protect no one and only punish families further. Children of sex offenders deserve the right to go to these parks with their sex-offender parents!
Or, don't these innocent children count?
Shame on the Arkansas legislators for making up their minds before the bill was even presented, and refusing to open their eyes and see what is so BLANTANTLY obvious to be nothing more than more punishment for offenders.