As Grits told their indefatigable leader Mary Sue Molnar when the organization began, every other criminal justice reform group and activist in the state, including me, will inevitably sell them out at the Legislature. When someone says of a proposal, "well, we can do that but we have to exclude sex offenders," reform advocates routinely will jump at the deal without a second thought. And in general, rightly so. One cannot succeed in legislative politics by making the perfect the enemy of the good.
And yet, what that means as a practical matter is that nobody will consistently, much less passionately stand up for the interests of people on the sex offender registry except their own family members. Not their lawyers, not the ACLU nor any other advocacy group, no legislator nor state official, and (if we're honest) not even this blog ... nobody. If Texas Voices didn't exist, a lot of bad, barely vetted bills would slide through the process without a whiff of opposition, not because they weren't recognized as bad but because those in a position to vet them made a political calculation that opposing them would harm other interests. I'm not particularly proud that that's true - it doesn't speak very well of the criminal justice reform movement in this state - but it's the way it is.
Texas Voices does not suffer from such conflicts. As their name implies, they give voice to the truly voiceless. And last week those voices were at the capitol in force to oppose draconian new sex offender residency restrictions in HB 1064 by Sheffield and HB 1872 by Murphy. I asked Mary Sue to describe the group's efforts to oppose these bad bills and she replied via email thusly:
Both HB 1064 by Sheffield and HB 1872 by Murphy are residency restriction bills. 1064 would create a statewide residency and child safe zone restriction. 1872 would allow General Law cities to adopt their own restrictions up to 1000 feet. Both bills are based on the myth – research does not support the theory that children are likely to be victimized by strangers at places where children gather than at other places - and - there is no correlation between residency restrictions and reducing sex offenses or improving public safety. Additionally, over 93% of sex offenses are committed by someone who is not on the registry.
To sum it all up, there is no evidence, there are no statistics, there are no studies, and there are no reports to support the theory that residency restrictions or child safe zones improve public safety. NONE. In fact, research has shown that these types of restrictions do more harm than good.
We are still trying to kill both of these bills!
HB1064: The hearing for 1064 went really well. Approximately 50 Texas Voices members attended, 7 testified ‘against’ and 2 law enforcement officers testified ‘for’ (one of which admitted to problems with the bill as written). The final witness registration tally was 42 people AGAINST HB1064 and 1 person FOR. Here is the link to the video - Scroll to 1:24:28 to watch and be sure to watch the end at about 2:05:54. We emptied out the room when the bill was over. It was awesome to have so many of our members fill the room.See more from Texas Voices on the residiency restriction issue.
HB1872: I think about 4-5 people testified against and a few were for the bill. Rep. Schaefer and Rep. Elkins asked some great questions and made good points about the unintended consequences of these types of bills. Here's the link to the video. Scroll to about 3:49.