Tag Archives: Sex Offender Registry

Dick Sears moves the target

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.

Not good.

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? 

Yikes.

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.

Profiles in Courage, Dick Sears Edition… again

It may be the offseason for lawmaking, but there’s still some occasional activity under the Golden Dome. Yes, even aside from the well-chronicled bats in our communal belfry.

Yesterday brought a hearing of the Joint Corrections Oversight Committee. On its agenda: State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s audit of the Sex Offender Registry, which found an 11% rate of “critical errors.” Which triggered a requirement in state law that the Registry must receive a “favorable” audit before the state can start posting home addresses of offenders. Which triggered yesterday’s committee meeting.

Okay, what do you think? Is an 11% “critical error” rate is a “favorable” result?

I thought not.

According to VTDigger’s Laura Krantz, most of the committee also thought not.

Rep. Sandy Haas, P/D-Rochester, said the committee should put in writing that the audit is not favorable. Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, agreed.

Seems simple enough. Ah, but then Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears runbled into action. Or should I say, inaction.

Sears… said to admit the audit is not positive could create fodder for a lawsuit from a defense attorney. He also worried a judgment would be binding and perhaps require another audit before the addresses can go online.

Dick Sears, who gets a lot of credit in State House circles for being a wise old hand, does this a lot. If any idea comes up that might possibly create some legal bills for the state, he puts his foot down. And so, the Joint Committee “declined to pass judgment” on whether the audit was favorable. Thus ignoring plan old common sense and, if you ask me, the requisites of justice.

Because although the vast majority of the problems uncovered in the audit have been fixed, the system remains flawed and is virtually certain to start pumping out fresh errors.

And what if we start publishing home addresses and a non-offender winds up on the list complete with home address? Or if an offender’s listed home address is wrong? Those are critical errors that could lead to disrupted lives, communities in turmoil, or even vigilante justice.

I don’t know where the Legislature goes from here. There’s clearly an appetite for posting home addresses, but there’s an obvious need to make the Registry as mistake-proof as humanly possible before that step is taken. And there probably isn’t much of an appetite for a better system that’d probably cost more money. So I guess they’ve bravely kicked this can down the road. Thanks to the “leadership” of good old Dick Sears.