Lawmakers tighten sex-offender restrictions

Adults convicted of sexually violent offenses would be barred from entering school buses and would have to submit a DNA sample under two bills headed toward approval in the General Assembly.

House Bill 2066 “expands the prohibition on entry onto school grounds by any adult convicted of a sexually violent offense to include any school bus.” The measure was approved unanimously by the House on Feb. 8 and by the Senate last week.

The Senate broadened the prohibition to include any public or private property being used for a school-related or school-sponsored activity. That change now must be considered by the House.

The bill’s patron, Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, said that people convicted of a sexually violent offense present a threat to children. He said it is important to make sure students are safe on their way to school -- especially on a bus where other adults may not be present.

“Every parent of a student puts his boy or girl on the bus and takes a leap of faith that his child will get to school safely,” Bell said. “This is an effort to help keep that faith.”

He said HB 2066 is an extension of a law passed in 2007 that prohibits sexually violent offenders from entering school property.

“I patroned the original law, which was prompted by a sex offender who visited a Central Virginia elementary school dressed as Santa Claus,” Bell said.
Bell said the Virginia State Police suggested expanding the ban to school buses.

Bell also is sponsoring HB 2065. He said it would “require the collection of (deoxyribonucleic acid) DNA samples upon a conviction for additional sex offenses, including sexual battery, ‘peeping,’ and sexual abuse by an adult of a child who is 14 or 15. It would also authorize the taking of DNA samples pursuant to a plea agreement among all the parties.”

HB 2065 also cleared the House and Senate on unanimous votes. The Senate substituted its own version of the bill; on Friday, the House unanimously approved the Senate substitute.

Bell said that currently, the state can collect DNA samples for violators of some sex offenses, but not the ones he has listed in the bill. He said the new law would expand the DNA database because it is adding additional sex offenses to the list.

“DNA in the database can be used to determine if the defendant commits a sex offense in the future,” Bell said. “DNA helps ensure that the guilty person is caught.”

HB 2065 was suggested by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science as a way of improving the DNA database, Bell said.

Bell said that upon conviction, the defendant will be required to provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the database.

“Improving the DNA database will help us catch the perpetrator if he ever re-offends in the future,” Bell said. “DNA helps us catch and punish the guilty just as it helps exonerate the innocent.”

To track or comment on House Bill 2065, visit http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/hb2065. To track or comment on HB 2066, visit http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/hb2066.
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The project:HOMES "Renew Crew" (above) recently assisted an elderly member of the Laurel Presbyterian Church in Henrico by clearing brush, trimming hedges and raking leaves in her yard.

The Renew Crew serves low-income, disabled and elderly homeowners in need of small-scale home repairs such as porch, railing and step repairs, exterior painting, clearing overgrown yards, tearing down outbuildings, wheelchair ramps and other critical repairs and accessibility modifications. > Read more.

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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will present the Dominion GardenFest of Lights nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 25 to Jan. 9 (closed Dec. 24-25). This year’s theme will explore "Living Color" and show how the world's kaleidoscope of colors speaks to people, impacts nature and influences culture. Visitors will see colorful translucent butterflies in flight, stained glass-inspired illuminations, sparkling white light transformed into a brilliant rainbow, floating flowers opening and reaching toward “sunlight,” fields of brightly colored blooms waving in the moonlight, illuminated spheres dancing in the sky, among other displays. The event features more than a half million lights, botanical decorations, trains, holiday dinners, family activities and more. Admission is $5 to $13. For details, visit http://www.lewisginter.org. Full text

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