Governor Ralph Northam’s veto streak continued unabated Tuesday, blocking a bipartisan bill that would have required sex offenders in storm shelters to identify themselves.
The Democratic governor vetoed a pair of identical House and Senate bills that required sex offenders to “as soon as practicable after entry, notify a member of the shelter’s staff … of such person’s status as a registered sex offender.”
Both bills passed the House and Senate with significant bipartisan support.
As passed the bill would have also given shelter staff the authority to temporarily prevent someone convicted of sexually violent acts from coming in to the shelter while security arrangements were made.
That’s unconscionable, Northam said in his veto statement.
“Allowing shelters to turn people away, even on a temporary basis, is unconscionable and could lead to serious injuries or fatalities,” he wrote in his letter to the General Assembly.
Northam had proposed amendments to the bill last month, removing the requirement that sex offenders notify shelter operators, instead requiring cities and counties to come up with their own policies “with due regard to the health and safety of all persons” in the shelter.
Republicans expressed surprise at Northam’s veto.
Congressman Morgan Griffith, R-9th, a strong advocate for legislation requiring the identification of sex offenders during his time in the General Assembly, said he was deeply disappointed in the veto.
“The legislation would require a registered sex offender to notify a shelter’s staff upon admission to the facility,” Griffith said in a statement. “It would also give staff the ability to deny admission to a convicted ‘violent sex offender’ for the purpose of protecting others. These are reasonable requirements.”
“Parents who have evacuated their homes and gone to shelters should not need to worry that someone convicted of a ‘sexually violent offense’ is feet away from their sleeping children,” he added.
“Keeping sex offenders away from children is one area where Republicans and Democrats typically find common ground,” said Parker Slaybaugh, spokesman for House Republicans.
“This legislation had bipartisan support, but more importantly, it reflected common sense,” he said. “It didn’t turn anyone away from a shelter, but simply allowed for officials to ensure that everyone inside remains safe.”
Parents in storm shelters have enough on their minds without worrying about sex offenders preying on children, said Del. Rob Bell, R-Albermarle, chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee.
“Storm shelters are stressful enough. You’re there sometimes with just the clothes on your back, you’re eating with strangers, sleeping beside strangers, going to the bathroom beside strangers, and you’re worried about what you’ll find when you get home,” he said. “What’s unconscionable is this veto.”
Tuesday’s veto was the most recent in a chain of actions announced either only via press release or with little prior notice.
Northam has largely been a phantom in public life since February, when racist pictures appearing on his medical school yearbook were first made public.
Public events are now announced to the press with less than 24 hours notice. Events with longer lead times have routinely been met with protests by activist on both the political right and left.
Tuesday’s veto cannot be overridden, as the General Assembly has adjourned for the year and already conducted its one-day reconvened or ‘veto’ session in early April.