Interesting piece by the Associated Press’ Dave Gram (now serving as the Burlington Free Press’ de facto Statehouse Bureau) about legislative consideration of the state’s troubled sex offender registry.
As you may recall, state law requires that the registry pass a “clean audit” before offenders’ addresses can be posted online. And the registry has failed two audits. The most recent, issued last summer, found “critical errors” in 11 percent of cases.
But maybe, just maybe good enough for Dick Sears, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a man determined to get those addresses online. He has said there should be a zero percent error rate on the fundamentals, such as whether an individual should be on the registry in the first place. He said so again last Friday, according to Gram.
But he told a different story at a Judiciary Committee meeting on January 8:
“You can’t keep waiting for a positive audit, without defining what a positive audit is. If we were to define (the error rate), it would probably be 10 percent,” Sears said, according to a recording of the session.
Defender General Matthew Valerio interjected, “Or 5, or 2.”
Sears added, “Or 5 or 2 or 1 (percent).”
That first statement, quickly amended, is pretty damn alarming. He redefined “a positive audit” as reporting a 10 percent error rate?
While he immediately parroted Valerio’s words, his original statement is still hanging out there: “a positive audit… would probably be 10 percent.”
Sears then acknowledged that perfection might be impossible to attain: “Human beings enter the information.”
He’s right, of course. The problem is, posting the addresses of people labeled as sex offenders is a huge deal with potentially massive consequences. What if a person is wrongly labeled? What if an offender moves frequently, as is often the case, and an old address stays on the list? How about the new resident at that address?
Sears is dead set on getting those addresses online. And it sounds like he’s lowering his standards in order to achieve his goal. Let’s hope we don’t see a bill emerging from his committee that redefines a “clean audit” as an error rate of 10 percent or less.
Postscript. This story is one small sign of the diminishment of our Statehouse press corps. The key event occurred almost three weeks ago, and was not reported at the time. Gram retrieved the Sears comments from the official recording of the January 8 hearing.
As far as can be told, no reporters actually attended the hearing. Now, hearings go on every day, and Gov. Shumlin was inaugurated on January 8. Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that no reporters attended the committee hearing. But it’s an indication of how thin our Statehouse coverage is, and how many stories go unreported that are well worth our time and attention.