A Senate Committee approved a bill Wednesday to expand the monitoring of sex offenders, bringing the territory in line with federal standards and sending the message that the Virgin Islands is not a haven for people who sexually abuse children.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer on Wednesday morning testified in favor of the bill before the Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice.
Frazer told the panel Bill No. 29-0239 is "very important legislation for the protection of the residents of the territory, particularly women and children."
The bill requires all people convicted of sexual offenses to register with the Department of Justice’s sexual offender registry.
The registry has actually been in existence since 1999, the attorney general said, but the law has been virtually unchanged or tightened since its inception and is now "several generations behind most jurisdictions in the United States."
A federal act in 2006 required all state and territory laws to be updated to new standards by July 2011, Frazer said, and the Virgin Islands and 35 states failed to meet the deadline. As a result, the territory loses 10 percent – or about $200,000 – of certain federal grant funds for running the program.
"Fortunately all is not lost as to these funds,” Frazer said. “ We have been assured that these funds may be restored if the territory is able to achieve substantial compliance … by the next grant period."
The bill expands the definitions in the local statutes, establishes a tiered system for registrants based on the severity, number and types of the offenses for which sex offenders are convicted. For the lowest tier, convicted sex offenders must be registered for 15 years. The highest tier calls for registration for life.
The committee voted unanimously to send the bill on for consideration by the full Senate. Voting yes were Senators Sammuel Sanes, Celestino White, Ronald Russell, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Usie Richards, Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Alvin L. Williams.