Mayor Unleashes Keystone Kops Pearl Harbor Against GLAA/ACLU Amendments
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Mayor Unleashes Keystone Kops Pearl Harbor Against GLAA/ACLU Amendments

[Note: The following letter, filled with misinformation, was sent to all D.C. Councilmembers on the evening of December 6, just prior to the December 7 Council legislative session at which the Sex Offender Registration Act is expected to be considered. GLAA thanks Councilmember Mendelson, who was working late, for promptly faxing us the letter. During the legislative session on December 7, Councilmember Brazil, who had asked for this letter to be sent, inadvertently referred to it as "the U.S. Attorney's letter." This appears to be all too accurate, especially considering that our negotiations in recent days have been conducted not with the bill's sponsor, Mr. Brazil, but with Pat Riley of the U.S. Attorney's office.]

Anthony A. Williams

December 6, 1999

The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Council of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, N.W., Suite 720
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Councilmember Mendelson:

I am writing to urge your strong support for Bill 13-350, the Sex Offender Registration Act of 1999, as passed by the Judiciary Committee on November 15, 1999. It would deter sex offenders from committing new offenses and would create a registry to assist law enforcement investigations. By registering sex offenders by name and address the Metropolitan Police Department could notify the community when a sex offender is living, working, or going to school in the District.

Last May, I introduced sex offender legislation that -- in substance -- is very similar to Bill 13-350. After thorough consideration by the Council in consultation with legal and child advocacy groups and the gay and lesbian community, the current bill has been modified and improved to protect civil liberties and prevent unintended consequences. I am concerned that certain modifications under consideration would jeopardize federal funding, require additional resources to implement, and, most importantly, render the bill ineffective in protecting citizens, especially children, from known sex offenders. I believe that the citizens of the District have the right to know if their neighbors, children's teachers, and co-workers are sex offenders.

The amendment to allow sex offenders to petition the Superior Court to be removed from the register because they no longer present a danger would take Bill 13-350 out of compliance with the federal Wetterling Act mandate. This would weaken the District's sex offender registration and notification programs and subject us to the loss of important federal grant monies. The Wetterling Act requires registration based on offense. Thus, the District has no alternative concerning whether to register a sex offender who is convicted of an offense described in the federal mandate. Thus, a person who is required to register cannot be screened out of their registration obligation. Furthermore, the previous "risk assessment" procedure never worked properly in the District and is widely viewed as a weak and unworkable mechanism to classify offenders. Its return could essentially render the whole bill ineffective in establishing a fair, effective registration system.

Another amendment would make MPD, rather than the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia, the custodian of the sex offender registry. Housing the registry with the Offender Supervision Agency would streamline registration and be most efficient and least costly to the District. Furthermore, the Offender Supervision Agency can only register sex offenders who are required to register under District law, registration determinations are reviewable by the Superior Court, and community notification is to be performed by MPD. Thus, home rule issues simply are not implicated.

The basis for another amendment is the concern that the notification rules called for under the bill should be enacted as a part of the normal legislative process. However, the notification rules are already subject to public notice and comment and a Council review period. It is important that these rules proceed pursuant to the administrative rulemaking process so that, as experience in implementing a community notification program warrants, they may be more easily amended.

The final amendment being considered would delete or otherwise substantially change the bill's immunity provision, and would expose the city to potentially excessive, costly, and time consuming litigation. In the very unlikely circumstance a person is wrongly required to register or their name and address are wrongly published, in the current bill that person would have legal recourse when the District government and its employees acted in bad faith.

I urge the Council not to adopt these amendments and to take favorable action to enact Bill 13-350 as it is currently drafted. The children of our city deserve no less.



Anthony A. Williams


cc: All Councilmembers

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