An article from the Southeast Missourian makes me want to go out and kick some legislative butt.
The Feb.16, 2017 piece is about Rep. Kathy Swan filing legislation to bar sex offenders from museums, children’s sections of public libraries and children’s play areas in shopping malls.
I’m not from Missouri and I don’t know Rep. Swan or her background, but her final comment in the piece suggesting “Missouri lawmakers would back her bill” makes me think she’s “too big for her britches and over-reaching with her crystal ball”.
The incident prompting the legislation, a known registered sex offender apparently had the nerve to visit Discovery Playhouse museum “unattended”, and then to “roam the facility”. It’s uncertain from the article how the registrant was recognized or who reported them to the police. Perhaps there was a giant Scarlet Letter hanging around his neck and that gave him away.
Now, I’m not sure what “unattended” means in this instance. Do Discovery Playhouse rules require that one be accompanied by a child, a parent, some sort of keeper? And to “roam the facility”, isn’t that what everyone does in a museum, roam. They don’t just stand in one place! There’s no mention in the piece that this “unattended” individual was doing anything suspicious. Could it be possible they just wanted to visit the museum? Why do legislative minds always assume the worst.?
According to the article, Rep. Swan got her information about the incident from Cape Girardeau lawyer Issac Venable who coincidentally happens to be listed as president of the museum’s board of directors on their webpage.
Cape Girardeau appears to already have existing state law restrictions barring covicted sex offenders from being within 500 ft. of public parks that have playground equipment or swimming pools and from 1000 ft of schools and child-care facilities. Those are already too many restrictions if you ask me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sex offenders have already paid for their crime. There is no empirical evidence that restrictive bans like those existing and those Rep. Swan seeks to expand on do anything to decrease sex offenses by registrants because the truth of the matter is that most registrants are first-time offenders with an extremely low rate of recidivism. Rep. Swan might want to educate herself on these facts before going off on a fear-mongering diatribe about registrants.
A bright spot in the incident was that the involved registrant was not breaking any laws by visiting the museum and therefore could not be removed from the venue by police. According to Mr. Venable, “children’s museums are not protected” under state law.
My question to Mr. Venable is this, “protected from what exactly”? This registrant wasn’t doing anything that anyone else visiting the museum wasn’t doing. They were there I imagine looking at whatever the museum has on display. Why is it “assumed” that they were there for some nefarious reason? Why can’t a registrant just be a person visiting a museum? Why do legislators “always go there”? Have they never made a mistake in their lives, one that the public knows about or that they hope no one ever finds out about? Are they so high and mighty that they don’t believe they can ever fall from grace?
Mr. Venable states “the safety of children visiting our facility is our greatest priority. A child can’t learn and explore exhibits we provide if they are scared and/or in danger”. Well, were the children scared or in danger? There’s no mention of that in the article, but I’m sure just saying it will surely have the public imagining that they were.
We are so fortunate to have had Vicki Henry, WAR president testify at a public hearing on Rep. Swan’s bill earlier this month.
Vicki gets the word out to the public letting them know the real facts regarding registrants, their low incidence of recidivism, the fact that many of them are low-level first-time offenders who don’t go on to re-offend. She advocates for the rights of registrants to successfully integrate back into society. She sets the record straight for the public providing facts showing that residency restrictions for registrants are unwarranted. She provides the public with honest facts about registrants because that’s what the public deserves, and I think that’s what they want. We live in a world of diversity and instead of excluding people as Rep. Swan seems to want to do, Vicki has the presence of mind to educate people so that everyone can be included. Education is powerful, we fear what we don’t understand, luckily we have Vicki to help ease the fears of the public by educating them.
Rep. Swan’s job is to work “for” the people of her state, “all” the people of her state. She can’t pick and chose who she wants to work for. Registrants are tax-paying citizens whether she likes it or not. If public tax dollars are used to pay for playgrounds, parks, public libraries, museums, then registrants should be able to enjoy those spaces just like every other constituent in her district.
So, while Rep. Swan is certain lawmakers will back her bill, I’m certain WAR will back Vicki on this one.