Tuesday, June 7, 2011
By KRISTY CHU
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – The City Council on Wednesday is set to take up discussion of the recently enacted county ordinance banning registered sex offenders from county parks and beaches, opening the door for the city to draft a similar ordinance.
Under the county ordinance, crafted by Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, it is a misdemeanor for registered sex offenders to enter a county park, beach or recreation area without written permission. Violating the law could mean up to $500 in fines and up to six months in jail.
Rancho joins a growing list of Orange County cities discussing the issue following approval of the county law in April. Irvine officials voted to draft a law and are expected to discuss this month whether to adopt it. A councilman in Dana Point is seeking support from his colleagues to get the issue on the council's next meeting agenda. Huntington Beach and Westminster have passed bans similar to the county one.
Though the Huntington Beach council was unanimous in its decision, several council members expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the ordinance. Also, critics argue the law does not differentiate between low-level sex offenders and those who have committed more serious crimes. Others say the ban could be difficult to enforce and might drive sex offenders "underground," making them even harder for law enforcement to track.
Rancho Councilman Steve Baric requested the item be put on Wednesday's meeting agenda for discussion, noting the "potential for further action." No action is expected to be taken Wednesday, but the council may direct staff to draft an ordinance for consideration at a future meeting. Eight registered sex offenders live in the city, according to the National Sex Offender website and California's Megan's Law website.
Baric said the first steps could include working with the Santa Margarita Landscape and Recreation Corp., the master homeowners association in charge of park maintenance, to ban sex offenders from city parks.
Brian Fitzpatrick, a senior Deputy District Attorney, is also expected to attend the meeting to answer councilmember questions about the law.
"We're in active conversation with many cities," said Susan Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County District Attorney. "We applaud Rancho Santa Margarita in considering this because we believe that parks were created for the enjoyment of families and ... to be free from sex offenders."
The county ordinance – which went into effect May 5 – was inspired by an ordinance in Fullerton that prohibits sex offenders who have committed sex crimes against children from loitering within 300 feet of parks, schools, and daycare centers. Orange and Tustin have similar ordinances. State law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks where children play.
Nelson said he wants to ban registered sex offenders from county libraries, as well.
Baric said the issue is especially important in light of a recent incident involving a sex offender at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library.
Registered sex offender [name withheld], 67, was arrested in May after three teenage girls saw him touching himself at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library. He is accused of sitting on a bench inside the library, laying a newspaper across his lap and touching himself under the newspaper, according to a news release from the District Attorney's office.
[name withheld], a Mission Viejo resident, has pleaded not guilty to one felony count of indecent exposure with prior convictions. According to court records, [name withheld] posted $20,000 bail on May 24. He is scheduled to appear in court for pretrial hearings later this month and in July, and a preliminary hearing in August.
- So, once again, one idiot commits a crime, and instead of just punishing the one person, they want to punish all! Imagine if we did this with all other crimes? Imagine if you committed a DUI 20 years ago, and today someone is arrested for some DUI crime, and they pass some law that sweeps you up into the same punishment? You'd not like it either!
By John Haughey
Map of 2,500-foot circles around schools, daycare centers, parks, churches could, essentially, leave few pockets in 4.5-square-mile city where sexual offenders can legally live.
The New Port Richey City Council is expected Tuesday to formally adopt an amendment to the city's sexual offender residency requirements that plugs a "void" in state statutes.
It mandates that all newcomers convicted of sexual crimes elsewhere register with city police and comply with city residency prohibitions -- even if they were not required to do so in their former jurisdictions.
- So let me get this straight. If you committed a sex crime, say 50 years ago, and have never had to register, now if you move to Florida, you have to register as a sex offender and live by the draconian laws? That isn't fair, nor should it be constitutional, but hey, it's Florida!
The council will review the proposed ordinance during its regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 5919 Main St.
The council unanimously approved the amendment during its May 17 meeting, setting the stage for formal adoption on Tuesday.
Florida law prohibits those convicted of sexual crimes from living within 1,000 feet of any school, day care center, church, park or playground. New Port Richey is among more than 60 Florida municipalities with a 2,500-foot residency prohibition.
|Chief Jeffrey Harrington|
- So if you've lived elsewhere, and have been free of the modern day Scarlet letter, you must now re-brandish the Scarlet "S" label!
Therefore, the proposed amendment to the city's 2005 sexual offender registry ordinance adds that "people convicted of similar (sexual) offenses in other jurisdictions" to comply with the ordinance's 2,500-foot prohibition.
To ensure they are not living within 2,500 feet of a school, day care center, church, park or playground, the amended ordinance will explicitly require those convicted of sexual crimes to register with city police.
City officials were encouraged to review its sexual offender ordinance by Delaware Avenue resident Tom Harris, who first approached the council on March 15 with concerns about what he perceived as a growing population of sexual offenders living in the city and, in some instances, near schools.
During his appearance before the council on May 17, Harris said two years ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement identified 18 sexual offenders living in the city. The FDLE's email notification system alerted him about five times a year to new arrivals in the city convicted of sexual crimes, he said.
Now, Harris said, he receives 25 to 30 notifications from the FDLE about sexual offenders moving into New Port Richey. Yet, he said, when he checked with city police, they did not know some were living in the city.
The 2,500-foot prohibition already leaves few places in the 4.5-square-mile city where sexual offenders can legally live, council members noted.
One way to illustrate that would be by drawing a map with 2,500-foot circles around every school, daycare, park, and church to see where -- if anywhere -- it would be legal for a convicted sexual offender to live.
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