Supporters of Brittany's Law want Speaker Heastie to give the bill a fair up or down vote

By LOUIS FLORES

A proposed state law to create on online registry of violent felons has passed the New York State Senate, but awaits whether Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx), at his sole discretion, will allow the bill to come up for a vote before the lower state legislative house.

If enacted, the draft bill, named Brittany's Law, would require anyone convicted of a violent felony to register with the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services.  The registry information would be available to the public, including through an online database.  Brittany's Law is patterned from Megan's Law, which mandated the creation of a database of registered sex offenders.

Advocates for Brittany's Law, including State Senator Patty Ritchie (R-Watertown) and State Senator Catherine Young (R-Jamestown), have issued statements in the past in support of the bill.  

"Victims of domestic violence deserve to know that their offenders will be not only held accountable but that steps are in place so their attackers cannot hurt someone in the future.  We know many violent felony offenders are likely to repeat their crimes and establishing a registry and making their information public would help protect the lives of New Yorkers, like Shannon Pepper,” State Senator Young said, referring to the victim of a horrific violent attack, according to a statement issued last month.

However, the leadership of the New York State Assembly has not been motivated to move on the  legislation, which is intended to help victims of domestic violence. 

Dale Driscoll is perhaps the most prolific advocate for Brittiany's Law, since she is the surviving grandmother of the young girl in whose memory the bill is named.  Ms. Driscoll told Progress Queens that Brittany's Law has been passed by the State Senate four years in a row, but the State Assembly has failed to even vote on the legislation.

"Nobody gives us an answer as to why they won't bring it to the floor," Ms. Driscoll said, adding, "But they bring yogurt to the floor," referring to Governor Andrew Cuomo's successful plan to make yogurt the official state snack.

During last year's gubernatorial race, women's issues became a central campaign issue.  Nevertheless, one of the most visible female Assemblymembers has not expressed support for Brittany's Law.

In the wake of former Speaker Sheldon Silver's resignation from the top Assembly leadership post, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) had briefly campaign for the speakership, asserting that her support of women's issues would elevate the cause for equality in the state legislature.  Notwithstanding her embracing of identity politics, Assemblymember Nolan did not answer requests made by Progress Queens, inquiring whether she would support Brittany's Law.

Reportedly, former Assembly Speaker Silver deliberately blocked legislation from coming up for a vote if he wasn't able to politically benefit in some way from the legislation.  Advocates for government reform expected that a new Assembly speaker would change fix this broken system.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) advocated for the Assembly's passage of Brittany's Law at a press conference held on May 22, 2014.  Source :  YouTube

However, Speaker Heastie has not indicated whether he will allow Brittany's Law to receive a fair up or down vote in the Assembly.  Furthermore, Speaker Heastie did not answer a request made by Progress Queens for comment about what is preventing Brittany's Law from coming up for a vote.

Brittany's Law was named after Brittany Passalacqua, who, along with her mother, Helen Buchel, were the victims of a 2009 double-homicide committed by John Brown.  Mr. Brown was on the verge of completing his parole when the young Miss Passalacqua and Ms. Buchel were murdered.  He had, at that time then, served two recent, prior terms in prison, a first for having violently shaken his infant child in 2003 and a second for having violated the terms of his parole following his early release from his first term in prison.

Ms. Driscoll, the late young Miss Passalacqua's maternal grandmother and the late Ms. Buchel's mother, said that Brittany's Law could help victims of domestic violence to look up information about their attackers, so that victims of domestic violence could know more about their boyfriends or husbands.  Ms. Driscoll added that Brittany's Law could also help parents and friends of victims by giving loved ones the ability to look up information about whom their relatives and friends were dating, in case any behaviors would raise questions about possible histories of violence. 

The blogger and political commentator, Suzannah B. Troy, was the victim of an alleged violent 2012 assault and battery by Delita Hooks, a receptionist of a physician, Dr. Andrew Fagelman, who shared office space with Ms. Troy's former physician, Dr. Kathleen Vine.  Ms. Troy told Progress Queens that she perhaps understood why some female legislative leaders up in Albany were shying away from championing the passage of Brittany's Law.  Ms. Troy said that advocates for any kind of reform must overcome a culture of public corruption that subverts efforts by grassroots activists to make our political and judicial systems more responsive to social needs.*

Ms. Troy drew a comparison to other issues important to women, notably how no female New York City Councilmember voted to maintain the former campus of St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan zoned for a hospital, which advocates had demanded, in order to facilitate the return of a full service hospital, including the rape treatment center that had formerly been attached to the now-shuttered St. Vincent's Hospital.

"Talk is cheap.  They love to gather and pat themselves on the back," Ms. Troy said, referring to the female municipal lawmakers, adding that, "None of them did anything." 

"Every woman City Councilmember voted for Rudin," Ms. Troy said, referring to the real estate developer, who is now converting the site of the former sole rape treatment center attached to a Level 1 Trauma Center in all of lower Manhattan into a $1 billion luxury condo and townhouse complex.  "Only Charles Barron supported the rape crisis center by virtue of his vote against the Rudin luxury condos," Ms. Troy added. 

Ms. Troy said that she believes that Brittany's Law could prevent her alleged attacker from possibly attacking others, by making it known that Ms. Troy's alleged attacker has allegedly engaged in a violent attack against Ms. Troy.  Ms. Troy is engaged in a protracted legal battle with the New York Police Department and officials with other law enforcement agencies, including officials with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, in search of a resolution to the violent attack she suffered.

Supporters of Brittany's Law also point to two other tragic cases that might have been prevented, had Brittany's Law been in effect.  

In 2008, Harry Klages II stabbed and mutilated a male victim, Andrew Lesperance, at a time when Mr. Klages had been on probation in connection with a prior stabbing.  In the attack against Mr. Lesperance, Mr. Klages later pled guilty and received a prison sentence of 38 years.

In 2013, Anthony Nevone brutally beat and raped his then live-in girlfriend, Shannon Pepper, over the course of two days of horror and torture.  Lori Pettit, the district attorney, who prosecuted the case against Mr. Nevone, has previously said that the injuries to Ms. Pepper made that case the "worst case of domestic violence I’ve ever seen.”  

Prior to the attack on Ms. Pepper, Mr. Nevone had served a term in prison for previous first-degree assault on another girlfriend, authorities said.  Mr. Nevone was out on parole when he attacked Ms. Pepper.

Ms. Pepper had told the press that she had been aware that Mr. Nevone had a criminal record, but, she said, she was not aware of the extent to which Mr. Nevone was violent.  Before she would later die in an unrelated fire, Ms. Pepper became a champion of Brittany's Law.

Whilst advocates for victims' and women's rights advocate for the bill's passage, some in the legal community do not agree with the idea of an online registry.  The bill was opposed by the Criminal Courts Committee and the Corrections and Reentry Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on several grounds.  However, City Bar members failed to make recommendations for how Brittany's Law could be found acceptable to City Bar members. 

Meanwhile, circumstances, like the push by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) to close prisons and the subsequent over-burdening of parole and probation officers, have created a systemic failure that has ignored the high recidivism rate of violent felons, adding to a sense of urgency for the enactment of Brittany's Law, Ms. Driscoll told Progress Queens.  

According to one highly-cited U.S. Department of Justice study of fifteen states, for example, between 60 and 70 per cent. of violent prisoners released were rearrested within three years.  

Ms. Driscoll also noted that there is a shared attitude between the most violent offenders and offenders, who commit domestic violence.  

Such a shared attitude was documented in the book, Violent and Sexual Offenders :  Assessment, Treatment and Management, for example.*

As politicians either make sweeping budget cuts by closing prisons or block a fair up or down vote on Brittany's Law, some advocates fighting for the rights of each of victims of violent attacks and of women wait as more and more cases of violent attacks take place.

Ms. Troy, who survived a violent attack at her doctor's office, raised the horror of a recent violent attack at a Brooklyn McDonald's.  Given the prevalence of violence, Ms. Troy said that something had to be done.  Ms. Troy told Progress Queens that her family said that something had to be done to make sure that attackers don't commit other attacks, again. 

(*)  This article was amended to reflect corrections to the name of Ms. Troy's physician.  Supplemental information about shared attitudes between people, who commit the most violent offenses, and people, who commit domestic violence, was also added.