By Sandy . . . When the next freeze hits Virginia, or the next hurricane threatens the eastern seaboard, that state will join others in which persons on a sexual offense registry can – and will – legally be denied entrance to emergency shelters.
The two houses of the Virginia Assembly, each unable to agree on the other’s version of an emergency management bill affecting registrants, got together and created one that went far beyond what either had originally proposed.
The bill was passed in the last days of the General Assembly; the result came within a vote or two of failing. The text of the bill:
- includes a criminal penalty for failure to self-report one’s registrant status when seeking shelter;
- deletes the clause contained in the Senate version that said no one could be denied entry because of registry status;
- adds a clause saying that non-violent offenders cannot be denied entry but violent offenders can be denied entry while shelter personnel provide for the safety of the others in the shelter.
According to the advocate representative of NARSOL’s affiliate Safer Virginia, 82% of those on the state’s registry are labeled as violent due to Virginia’s classification system.
He reports that during debate, Democratic senators noted that the third clause could present a shelter with the opportunity to ban registrants from the shelter under the guise of ensuring the safety of others. The Republican senators argued that the clause meant that registrants could be barred entry only while safety accommodations were being made.
However, that is not the way the bill reads. Based on its verbiage, a shelter could indefinitely deny admittance to a registrant because safety accommodations for others in the shelter were not yet in place or were not complete.
And even if registrants were turned away for only one or two days, that is as long as it would take for someone to freeze to death or to drown in rising flood waters.
Our Safer Virginia advocate has contacted Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management and the Department of Social Services who run the emergency shelters in Virginia. Emergency Management has responded to him that it was all now in the hands of Social Services. As of this writing, he has not had a response from them.
In the meantime, NARSOL will add Virginia to its list of states to watch carefully for human right’s violations of registered citizens who seek shelter during emergency situations and are denied.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.