Courtesy of Grits for Breakfast
I was pleased yesterday to get to spend a little time with Mary Sue Molnar and the folks at Texas Voices (a group made up of families of registered sex offenders) at their statewide conference here in Austin. By the time I showed up in the late morning there were perhaps 60-70 folks there; I walked in just in time to hear most of their legislative update.
They were, of course, all devastated at Governor Perry's veto of legislation to allow defendants to petition judges in Romeo and Juliet cases to be taken off the registry. But this was the first legislative session they'd even been involved as a newly formed group and that same bill could probably pass again whenever it's somebody else's turn to be Governor. In the meantime, about 100 new people per month are being placed on Texas' sex offender registry, Molnar reported to the group.
I enjoyed meeting quite a few readers and appreciated the invitation.
For a variety of reasons, despite the fact that they theoretically represent a lot of folks, inmate family groups have enjoyed notoriously little success pushing their interests at the Texas state capitol, much less families of sex offenders. But Texas sex offender registration laws are now so over the top - to the point where a registered sex offender can't legally drive across town for fear of passing a school or community center and violating parole - that I sense a growing bipartisan consensus at the Legislature that this is an area ripe for reform.
Though being tuff on sex offenders is all the rage among politicians at election time, a lot of folks around the Texas capitol from both parties will agree with you in private that the registry fails to adequately distinguish between dangerous rapists and pedophiles and people who committed less serious offenses. Indeed, this year's vetoed legislation to allow judges to approve de-registration in Romeo and Juliet cases was filed by Republican Todd Smith, an indication that concerns about overreach in this area don't necessarily fall along party lines.
The group at Texas Voices have a tough row to hoe, and for the family members it's not one they've chosen. I'm glad to see them getting organized. Nobody else is going to fight these battles for them and the issue deserves more focused advocacy than its heretofore received.
"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution)