By Thomas Prohaska
LOCKPORT - Niagara County may follow the City of Lockport's lead in repealing a sex offender buffer zone law.
The County Legislature's Administration Committee approved a resolution Tuesday that would call a public hearing on repealing the law.
County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said the county's law, passed in 2008, is stricter than the state's buffer zone law and thus could be invalidated in a court challenge.
Courts accept a fixed legal principle of supremacy in which no state law is allowed to be more severe than a federal law, and no local law is allowed to be more severe than a state law.
- Well, this doesn't hold true for some states, Florida, for example, has a 1,000 foot buffer zone, but other counties have a 2,500 foot buffer zone.
Niagara County's law came close to matching the state's rule, which says no Level 3 sex offender on probation or parole is allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground or other place where children gather. The county law covered Level 2 and 3 offenders, including those who were no longer on probation or parole.
"We passed something we thought was going to pass constitutional muster," said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, who sponsored the 2008 law.
His original version also applied to Level 1 sex offenders, but that provision was deleted before final passage.
Lockport's law, repealed Aug. 1, also applied the 1,000-foot rule to all Level 2 and Level 3 offenders.
Earlier this year, Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III invalidated a Town of Newfane law with a 2,000-foot buffer zone. North Tonawanda's quarter-mile buffer zone also has been challenged in court, but no ruling has been made yet. Niagara Falls' 1,500-foot limit is still on the books.
In the past year, federal judges have overturned buffer zone laws from the City of Geneva and Suffolk County. Previous decisions by various judges invalidated such laws in Albany, Rockland, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Rockland and Schenectady counties. But Orchard Park passed a 2,000-foot buffer zone law last month.
"None of the counties or municipalities have taken these cases up to the Appellate Division," Joerg said. "They determined it would be futile. . We're walking a tightrope."
The full Legislature is expected to vote next Tuesday on holding a public hearing.