D.C. Council member Harold Brazil says he expects to list more than 300 names of convicted rapists, child molesters and other sexual psychopaths on the District's sex offender registry in the next two weeks, after the council passed legislation yesterday strengthening the city's law.
The council unanimously approved Brazil's sex offender emergency act, along with other bills that it wanted to go into effect, during its last session before summer recess.
Brazil (D-At Large), who failed to get the law passed last week under his anti-crime package, called yesterday's success "a great victory." The District enacted a similar law two years ago, but it has registered only 117 sex offenders who live or work in the city because of holes in the legislation.
"We've got the bill and it's a good bill," Brazil said. "We have about 300 sex offenders we've identified who could be put on it. They can start it now."
Although the bill received unanimous support, there were some contentious moments because several council members supported amendments in efforts that Brazil referred to as "chickens trying to peck this bill to death."
Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) said they were concerned about "privacy issues," particularly protecting people accused of relatively minor crimes that fall under the sex offender category.
Graham wanted to change language in the bill that would grant D.C. employees and public officials "absolute immunity" from liability if someone were wrongfully placed on the registry. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) amended the legislation to say city officials would be immune if they used "good faith conduct."
"I don't think we're pecking at this," Graham said. "These are issues that deserve our attention. It's the scarlet letter, the mark of Cain, a brand," Graham said. "If it's not properly applied, I want people to be able to get compensation, damages of whatever the law provides."
Chavous said it didn't make sense to give government officials absolute immunity.
"We have to be very careful as we move down the road," Chavous said. "We need a little cluck, cluck in here sometimes to make sure we don't roll over people's rights."
Graham also was concerned that a federal agency, rather than the city government, will register offenders.
D.C. police will be responsible for releasing sex offender information and notifying residents, but the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia will create and maintain the registry.
Don Haines, a lawyer and gay rights activist who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, called Brazil's legislation "a really bad bill" because people arrested for skinny-dipping or urinating in public could be listed in the registry. Haines said the changes made by the council were substantial but would not make a difference because a federal agency will administer the registry.
"People worked hard to improve the bill, but all the protective language means nothing because a federal agency is implementing most of the law," Haines said.
Mary Jane DeFrank, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, criticized the council for rushing through "complex legislation."
"This is not the way they should be running the council," DeFrank said. "We wouldn't all be frantically running around like this if they had had a complete public hearing on this bill."
The council also passed legislation allowing Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to hire police officers using lateral transfers from other jurisdictions. The city wants to bring in officers with one to five years' experience to replace the 20 or so officers the District loses each month. Officers who join the force would start as new hires when it comes to benefits, including pension plans.