Lawmaker seeks limits on sex offender homes

On December 10, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Lawmaker seeks limits on sex offender homes

"By John Austin CNHI State Reporter 12/10/16

AUSTIN — Small cities have trouble keeping registered sex offenders from living near schools and other places where children gather, but one lawmaker says the state may finally be ready to give them that authority.

Unlike larger cities, municipalities with populations less than 5,000, known as general-law cities, don’t have the power to dictate where registered sex offenders may live, according to some interpretations of a 2007 opinion by Gov. Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general.

With no state limits, nothing prevents sex offenders from being around children once they’ve finished their sentences in those small communities.

Nearly four-dozen general law cities have adopted limits, but threatened legal action prompted nearly a quarter of them to repeal the rules. About the same number have been sued, according to the Texas Municipal League.

Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, said he plans to settle the matter with a bill allowing small cities to create child safety zones of no more than 1,000 feet around schools, day cares, playgrounds, youth centers, public pools, arcades and facilities that hold events geared toward children.

Registered sex offenders could transport a child they’re legally permitted to be with into the zones. They may travel through the zones for work.

The proposal also exempts those who’ve lived in a zone before it was created.

“I think I’ll have bipartisan, strong support,” said Springer, whose proposal is backed by the Texas Municipal League. “It’s rural Texas values.”

He called it a “quality-of-life” measure.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said 96 percent of the state is outside the jurisdiction of cities, which leaves plenty of space for sex offenders to live outside child safety zones.

“We’re not in support of legislation that would ban sex offenders,” he said. “You’ve got to live somewhere, but not within 50 feet of a school.”

But Richard Gladden, a Denton attorney who works on behalf of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, a group that advocates for those required to register for sex-related offenses, said similar bills have failed in the past.

Courts elsewhere are increasingly throwing out such restrictions, with a federal appeals court in Michigan ruling one unconstitutional.

Gladden said research doesn’t support the idea that residency rules make children safer.

In fact, making offenders’ lives less stable, by requiring them to live far from their jobs, could raise the odds of re-offending, he said.

“Politicians don’t inform constituents of that,” he said. “They leave that out so that they can appear to be tough.”

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