|Sen. Lisa Boscola|
By Sara K. Satullo
Pennsylvania state Sen. Lisa Boscola has again introduced legislation that would limit how close registered sex offenders can live to schools, day cares, playgrounds and school bus stops.
Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe, first drafted such a bill in January 2012 after hearing from Saucon Valley School District parents upset that their children’s relocated bus stop was close to a registered sex offender’s home.
If enacted, the law would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares, preschools or playgrounds and 500 feet of a school bus stop. It would not be retroactive.
Boscola Chief of Staff Steve DeFrank admits bus stops are a tough issue, and no other state has such a residency restriction. Nineteen other states, however, have some laws governing where Megan’s Law offenders can live, he said.
“Bus stops can be prime target areas,” DeFrank said.
- They could be, yes, but they are not, and the facts, not hysteria, shows that.
The bill does allow for exemptions if a school district can’t relocate a bus stop.
“The school district has to make every attempt to locate bus stops at least 500 feet from sex offenders,” DeFrank explained.
If that can’t occur, the district must notify parents of children at the stop that a predator is present, DeFrank said.
- Not all sex offenders are predators!
Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy said he has not spoken with Boscola about the proposed law. But it would add another variable into the complex process of busing all of Bethlehem’s private, parochial, charter and public school students, he said.
“From the safety side it makes sense,” Roy said of the bus stop restriction. “From a practical side, depending on how many sex offenders there might be in an area … it could be that we end up with bus stops that cause kids to walk further and cross more streets.”
Roy doesn't think the waiver process sounds practical but there may be ways to work though possible hurdles.
Saucon Valley Superintendent Sandra Fellin said it could be challenging for districts where there is high-density housing or a transient population that requires changing routes, stops or waiver applications.
"I believe all districts plan their routes and place their stops in responsible locations away from known offenders," Fellin said.
Fellin agrees with Roy that if enacted the law means students may have to walk farther.
"At times, safety may mean inconvenience," she said.
Last year, Saucon moved a bus stop to Finady Avenue in Fountain Hill over concerns that the old stop at Benner Avenue and Moravia Street was hazardous during winter weather. After complaints and a district and board review of the stop, the district decided to keep it on Finady. It is unclear if the stop is within 500 feet of a sex offender's home.
Saucon parent Paula Steuer, who adamantly opposes the stop and fought for legislation, questioned why the bus stop wouldn't be subject to the 1,000-foot restriction as well.
“Some children stand alone at the bus stops and some walk these routes alone in the early morning darkness,” Steuer wrote in an email. “I think we need to stop playing with children and their safety and step up and really protect them. It's time to be proactive and not reactive.”
- And if you are so freaked out about it, maybe you should be a parent and walk to the bus stop with your child!
The law is part of a legislative package aimed at keeping children safe, Boscola said in a statement. She said she hopes all the media attention garnered by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case will make laws that help and protect children a legislative priority in 2013.
“Children are our most precious resource,” Boscola said in the statement. “We owe them our love, support and every legal protection available.”