PDF version of the above document 01/05/99
Howell writes Councilmembers on Megan's Law bill
[Note: The following letter was faxed to all DC Council Judiciary Committee members on July 2, 1999; a slightly altered version was faxed to other Councilmembers.]
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013-5265
July 2, 1999
The Honorable Harold Brazil
Council of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Mr. Brazil:
I am writing to urge you not to present the Sexual Offenders Registration legislation on an emergency basis at the Council's July 6 legislative meeting.
We have seen the revised version of the three bills the Judiciary Committee held hearings about on June 29. We thank you for the obvious and valuable improvements over the original version. However, serious problems that could adversely affect the gay and lesbian community remain unresolved. The revised version closes the front door to homophobic abuse by removing the reference to consensual sodomy as a registration offense. Unfortunately, the back door remains open.
We see no legitimate reasons why the Council should rush into judgment on what has proven to be a much more complicated matter than we had initially realized. Since everyone concerned was aware of the often-cited July 12 deadline for avoiding the potential loss of $200,000 in federal revenues in FY 2000, the Mayor's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office should have presented their proposals far earlier this year so that issues could be fully aired and resolved responsibly without resorting to the emergency legislation route. The Council should tell the Mayor and the U.S. Attorney's Office: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part.
We are worried that the bills, as rewritten, still might require gay men convicted on consensual, non-violent sex charges in other states to be registered on D.C.'s sexual offenders registry and have their names and addresses splattered all over the Internet. The new language seeks to evade this problem but does not succeed. The determination of who has to register and who has committed consensual acts is left in the hands of a Federal agency (the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency) that is free to ignore the District's values and to reflect Congressional or Presidential pressures instead. What will this agency do, for example, when confronted with a gay man who moves here after being convicted in another state of "sexual assault" on a police officer in a restroom sting operation?
The working group that drafted the original bills was utterly oblivious to the implications of its requirement for registration of consensual sodomy offenders. There is no reason to presume that the federal Court Services agency would be any more sensitive to the concerns of the District's gay and lesbian community. The provision for an appeal to the Superior Court by someone ordered to register by the Court Services agency strikes us as odd, if only because we doubt that a D.C. court can be empowered to overturn the decisions of a federal agency.
At the very least, the bills should be amended in two ways.
One amendment would require that only the names and addresses of violent sexual offenders and child molesters would be put onto an Internet site of dangerous sex offenders. We understand Councilmember Graham is prepared to present such an amendment.
The other amendment would further restrict the language in the definition of a "registration offense" that says that anyone who moves or works or studies here after having to register as a sex offender in their home state has to be registered in D.C. as well. This presents an assault on home rule principles, not just on gay and lesbian rights principles. There may be cases not solely gay-related where D.C. does not care to criminalize sexual acts that are illegal elsewhere, and we should not be forced to reflect the judgments of other jurisdictions.
One such potential problem would be the definition of the age of consent, and hence the definition of statutory rape. The age of consent is 16 here; why should we register someone whose "crime" was having sex with a 17-year-old in a place where 18 is the age of consent? The Federal guidelines allow for this kind of exclusion, and the revised version (as noted above) tries to address the problem in terms of consensual sex convictions. There may be other exclusions that ought to be incorporated in the bill, and the problems we identified above with the role of the Court Services agency need to be addressed in this context as well.
The more we hear about these bills, the more convinced we are that not all problems have yet surfaced, much less been resolved sensibly. Accordingly, the Judiciary Committee and the Council should take the time needed to do the job right. The harm you may be unintentionally inflicting on innocent victims of homophobia is enormous; a temporary loss of $200,000 pales by comparison.