RICHMOND – Convicted violent sex offenders can’t go onto school property by state law. Now, some lawmakers want to expand the law to include school bus stops.
Lawmakers in Richmond are reviewing House Bill 1523, which would also keep convicted sex offenders away from “any property, public or private, during hours when such property is being used solely by a public or private elementary or secondary school for a school-related or school-sponsored activity.”
The bill advanced Monday to the Committee for Courts Justice.
Virginia has about 21,000 registered sex offenders. State Police Trooper Mike Dooley monitors some of them. He says it's a challenge. Even if the law passes, police don't have the manpower to keep an eye on thousands of school bus stops.
"Parents need to help us. They can call in and give us tips," Dooley said.
Dooley also says schools should check the offender registry online to find out where sex offenders are living before making bus routes. But some local school districts say they haven't been able to use the registry as a definitive planning tool.
"The information would have to be highly accurate and up-to-date for a city this large to use it as the basis for identifying hundreds of bus stops. As you can surmise, the fluidity with which individuals relocate make it difficult for this database to be as precise as we would need it to be," Kathy O'Hara of Virginia Beach Public Schools said.
Suffolk and Norfolk schools stated a similar response. "Accuracy of the data in the sex offender registry is questionable. Is the offender still living at that address especially if it is an apartment complex? How often is that information updated, we do not know," Karen Tanner of Norfolk public schools said.
Schools and police will investigate when parents voice concerns about any school bus stop.
Violators caught at bus stops could face prison time, costing taxpayers an estimated $50,000 a year.
"I think it's worth it. Anything to protect our children," parent Keith Kimball said.
State police say parents should teach children bus stop safety. If they see a stranger, they should run to a neighbor's home.