February 1, 2006
When Santa Claus is a convicted sex offender, he probably shouldn't be spreading the Christmas spirit in our schools. That?s according to one local law maker. On the agenda at a house subcommittee tonight was how to keep your kids safe from sex offenders. One of the items heard stemmed from an incident in Madison County.
Robert Sutherland Jr., a convicted rapist, played Santa Claus at a primary school in Madison County in December. School officials didn't know about Sutherland?s criminal record until after his visit.
"Their registry has the designation 'Most likely to reoffend' [in reference to Sutherland]. He came to the school as Santa Claus, invited by the PTA," said 58th District (R) Delegate Rob Bell. "This really matters. I really want to cover just what happened here."
Named after Sutherland, Bell presented the Santa Claus bill tonight. It would prevent convicted sex offenders from volunteering at schools.
"How many of these folks are going to voluntarily come forward and say, 'I'd like to volunteer and oh by the way, I?m a rapist,'" said 10th District (D) Delegate Ward Armstrong.
Probably no one would volunteer that information, but if caught, under this bill police could charge the ex-con with a felony. And the bill would also apply to all sex offenders, not just those who abuse kids.
"We have seen that some individuals migrate from one deviant sexual predator behavior to another," said 8th District (R) Delegate Morgan Griffith.
Even though Sutherland did nothing wrong this time, Bell still wants to keep all sex offenders out of our schools.
"[I don't think] any parents would like to see a convicted rapist at the school, whether or not the convicted rapist had been convicted [for] crimes against children or not," said Bell.
The court committee unanimously passed the Santa Claus bill tonight. But this is just one step in a series of steps before this bill can become law. If it passed it will go into effect July 2006. This bill is one of several bills lawmakers hope to pass that will crack down on sex offenders in Virginia.