Dear Members and Advocates,

During the past couple of weeks we got a lesson in how cloudy Florida politics are. It’s not like we are surprised –  we have constantly heard stories from our President’s trips to Tallahassee – but to see it in action is extremely disheartening. The lessons we’re talking about came from Senator Lauren Book and Lobbyist Barney Bishop.

We have been asking our members to contact their lawmakers, urging them to oppose Senate Bill 234, which seeks to change the definition of “day” to mean “any part of a calendar day”. The effect of that change in definition would be that persons required to register would now have to register any places they stayed for 4 parts of a day in the aggregate during a calendar year. The secondary effect is that friends and relatives won’t want you visiting because they don’t want their homes listed on the registry, stores won’t want your patronage because they don’t want their business listed on the registry and all these new temporary and transient “residences” will be subject to residency restrictions which will render them off limits. For people living in smaller communities with limited choices of supermarkets, restaurants and other amenities, it could effectively place someone on house arrest.

Senator Book clearly knew about this language in the bill, not only because she sponsored it, but because we repeatedly expressed this concern to her. Knowing her personal animus towards people on the registry, we didn’t expect her to care, but we hoped that when she presented her bill, the other senators might be more open minded. Unfortunately, when it came to presenting the Bill before the Judiciary committee, Senator Book made no mention at all of this predominant impact of the bill on the registration statute. Instead, she diverted the focus to the case of Ray La Vel James, who was recently acquitted for failure to register as a sex offender after the Court ruled he wasn’t required to.

Firstly, Mr. James (whose crime was in 2001) didn’t register because he didn’t have to. He wasn’t being sneaky or exploiting any loophole as Ms. Book implied, he was following the plain and ordinary meaning of the Statute. The trial court agreed with him and the three Judges of the appellate court agreed with him too. He also wasn’t lying in wait for 20 years to snatch a child. Guess what? He wasn’t on any registry and he didn’t reoffend. Stop trying to make it seem like this man, who paid his debt to society, and all others like him are ticking time bombs.

Secondly, if you are going to present this Bill to a Senate Committee for a vote, don’t you think it’s important to disclose the most salient portion of the bill?!?! If I crash my wife’s car into a tree on the way to McDonalds, do I come home and only say, “here you go… I got you a Big Mac!”? By failing to even mention this very critical component of her Bill, Senator Book didn’t give the other Senators the full picture. It is only with complete information that people can make informed decisions.

The other lesson we learned came from Barney T Bishop III, who waged war on City Walk Urban Mission. City walk is a wonderful organization that works with the homeless and ex-offenders providing basic human needs and transitional and supportive housing focused on re-entry. City Walk, unlike practically every other homeless shelter in the State of Florida, takes in ALL ex-offenders, including persons with a previous conviction for a sexual offense. It is that acceptance and kind-heartedness that has repeatedly put a target on City Walk’s back. Previously, Wakulla County tried to shut down City Walk through zoning enforcement. That effort resulted in a lawsuit in which City Walk prevailed and the county agreed to settle the case for $160,000. Now the same thing seems to be happening in Tallahassee and the ringleader is Barney Bishop.

On the surface, why would the President and CEO of the “Smart Justice Alliance” and “Citizens for Responsible Spending” have such a bug in his butt over an organization whose goal is to bolster the prospects for success of ex-offenders and reduce the chances of recidivism? Isn’t that goal incident to smart justice? Beneath the surface, however, we discovered that Barney Bishop is a paid lobbyist for several sheriff’s offices, including Wakulla County (who just lost their case to City Walk). He’s not speaking out as a representative of public interest groups. He has a personal (and financial) interest in exacting revenge on behalf of his client. If a representative of the “association of medical professionals” issues a statement that plastic straws have been linked to cancer and you later discovered the association of medical professionals is actually a paper straw manufacturing company, wouldn’t you question the motivation behind the statement?

We need transparency in Tallahassee. Not only in disclosing the complete details of a bill, but in disclosing the motivation or interests of the lawmakers sponsoring it or the individuals endorsing it. Since that doesn’t appear to be happening, lets make it our job to expose the truth!

Sincerely,

The Florida Action Committee


Reminders:

Need to Talk?  FAC has peer volunteers that are here to talk one-on-one, call 904-452-8322.  Volunteers are not available 24/7 but you will receive a call as soon as possible.  If you have an emergency, call 911, or helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or a crisis center (Listing of Crisis Centers and Hotlines)

Want to be a County Coordinator?  Sign up for a class to receive your training package.  Class A meets by phone on Sundays or Class B meets by phone on Wednesdays.  Looking for members who want to be part of the Membership team for their local area.  It requires 2-4 hours/week, self-motivation and a one-year commitment. No limit, you can have multiple coordinators in one County if you have a friend or family member that wants to help.  We will provide the training, support, and materials that you need to succeed.  If interested, contact membership at 833-273-7325 Option 1 or email [email protected] for more information.

Thursday Feb 25 – 7:00 pm ET – Fearless Group – Peer-led support group. Phone 727-731-2927.  If unable to connect, text “CALL ME” to same number to receive call back and be joined to the meeting.


SOME HEADLINES FROM THE WEEK

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