Dear Members and Advocates,
There has been a lot going on. As I take a few moments to prepare an update for you, I realize that things have been so hectic lately that we neglected to send one last week. Sorry about that. In between adjusting our personal lives to accommodate stay-in-place orders, setting up to work from home, reaching out to ensure family and loved ones have toilet paper and trying to budget for an impending financial crisis, all of our volunteers have been fielding calls and emails from so many of you who are scrambling to make the same accommodations for yourselves, while at the same time navigating the registry.
First and foremost, we hope you and everyone you care about is healthy and doing as well as can be expected during this very unprecedented period of time. Things can seem scary, uncertain, lonely and a whole bunch of other emotions. Please know that we are here for you. You are not alone and whether you call, email or participate in the discussions on our forum, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out for help or support if you need it.
As the rest of the world is encouraging individuals to take every conceivable precaution to protect themselves and others from spreading the Coronavirus, those concerns don’t seem to apply to people required to register as sex offenders. Florida Statutes requires IN PERSON registration for temporary address changes, vehicle changes and other pettiness that can easily be reported by phone or online, but NO, in the middle of a pandemic, the Florida Governor still wants people on the registry to show up, in person, to Sheriff’s offices and jails to report. If that were not bad enough, changes in temporary residences (3 or more days) within Florida require another IN PERSON visit to the Driver’s License Office, but they closed Driver’s License Offices for a month!!! Essentially, a homeless registrant cannot take temporary shelter someplace during this time. It just defies all logic! How anyone can claim the registry is not punishment, let alone cruel and unusual punishment, is incomprehensible.
So what can we do about it? The first step has been to gather and disseminate information. Over the past two weeks we have been contacting the registration offices in each County to ascertain their policies during this crisis and posting the information to our site. Some offices are business as usual, some have relocated, some are taking information by phone and some have simply closed. For those that are taking the information by phone or that have closed, how can one comply with the IN PERSON requirement that the statutes mandate? That’s an important question. Because Florida law requires that the reporting MUST be IN PERSON anyone failing to do so does that at their own risk (that risk being a felony), we suggest you travel to a neighboring County. The question of how you can report at a DHSMV driver’s license offices when they are closed is one we can’t answer.
Our next step was to appeal to the Governor for help. Because the requirement is mandated in the Statute, neither the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) nor the County Sheriffs can change the rules. The only way it can be accomplished is (a) by a change in the law, (b) by an executive order signed by the Governor, or (c) a Judge’s order. A change in law is not going to happen outside of legislative session when all the lawmakers have already left Tallahassee, so we can cross that off the list of options. A lawsuit is still on the list of considerations, but we run into the same hurdle we face whenever we want to mount a legal challenge… money and time. We can and will take that avenue should it be necessary, but our preference is to go the more reasonable route, should the State be reasonable towards us.
Our most hopeful option is an executive order, so we asked our members to reach out to the Governor’s office, we reached out to civil rights organizations (such as the ACLU and Florida Justice Institute) for help, and we even solicited (through these other organizations) support from the FDLE and the Sheriff’s Association in our request. To give credit where due, the FDLE isn’t exactly on the opposite side of the fence on this issue. I’m sure they have concern about the staff in the Sheriff’s offices who take the registration information. As things stand they are merely doing their job to enforce the law as written, but we might come to a point where they support our request and we hope that will carry some weight. This is literally a life threatening situation and the way we are being treated is telling.
Operating under a stay-at-home order has also revealed another challenge that incapacitates many of us; bans on social networking. With so many places closed, many are turning to social networks to keep connected with their employees, members and guests. I can’t tell you how many times in the last couple of weeks I’ve heard, “check our Instagram for the latest updates” or “connect with us on Facebook to participate”. Sure, but Facebook and Instagram won’t let people on the registry have an account! And just like that we are more cut off from existence than we already are. While everyone else is using social media for virtual get-togethers and to engage with family and friends during this period of “social distancing”, we are excluded. It’s unjust! It IS punishment.
We’re not only excluded in the virtual world, but in the real world. A tent community in Tampa is helping the homeless shelter during the outbreak, but registrants are excluded. The federal government is putting out programs to help small businesses recover from the financial impact of the Coronavirus, but guess what… business owners who are required to register are excluded from SBA Loan programs! We are contacted by family of transient registrants who are desperate for their loved one to come stay with them rather than sleep on the pavement during this pandemic, but no. Even though schools and playgrounds are closed, residency restrictions remain in effect and they still cant. What sense does this make? Think about who this harms. By excluding registrant business owners from programs to cover payroll, we are punishing their employees. By making registrants stay on the streets between 10PM and 6AM, we’re exposing their families to whatever they may have been exposed to when they come to their homes during the day.
It makes no sense, it is inhumane, it is unjust, it IS punishment. I have to believe that just like this pandemic will one day be over, so too will the registry. As overwhelming as this time is, it’s just motivated us more. These examples are just more exhibits to add to our list of collateral consequences that evidence punishment. And the harder we are punched, we are inspired to punch back even harder. There is a quote that says, “every time I feel myself about to sink, I swim harder.” Now is our time to swim harder! If you’ve not participated in our call to action, do it. Take 5 minutes to write to your legislator about this. And if you’ve not contributed to our general legal fund and you can afford to, please do. We are going to need it and we may need it sooner than later.
We want everybody to stay healthy, stay strong and stay in the fight!
The Florida Action
Monthly Membership call this Thursday April 2nd at 8pm ET. Topic: Review of the Legislative Session and Status of Bills/Laws. Dial 319-527-3487.
New Member Orientation Call Thursday April 9th at 8pm ET. In addition to learning more about the FAC organization and volunteer opportunities, we can discuss your concerns and share resources. No agenda. Dial 319-527-3487.
Family Support Sessions, Member Workshops, and Meet-n-Greets will be conducted via Zoom and Conference calls staring next week. Details will be sent in separate emails.
SOME HEADLINES FROM THIS WEEK
A member pointed something out that we were not aware of, but in times of crisis (such as we are in), becomes critical to businesses. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) provides small businesses with low interest loans to help recover from disasters, including…
Even in states of emergency, governments take any opportunity to kick persons required to register as sex offenders. With a county-wide order for people to stay indoors now in effect, the city of Tampa is establishing a tent city that will allow up to 100 homeless…
The United States Attorney General, William Barr, on March 26th sent a memo to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), encouraging the BOP to explore the option of sending inmates home on home confinement rather than keeping them incarcerated in…
Groups Call on Governor DeSantis to Temporarily Suspend In-Person Reporting Required Under Sex Offense Registry
BOYNTON BEACH, FLORIDA – March 27, 2020. The Florida Action Committee (FAC), the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute are calling on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to temporarily suspend the requirement that persons required to register for past sexual…