By Thomas Prohaska
LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature voted Tuesday to urge the state to pass a tougher sex offender buffer zone law instead of repealing the county’s existing law.
The Legislature passed a resolution introduced by its three Democrats calling on the Assembly and Senate to pass a law barring sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school, park, playground or other place where large numbers of children gather.
The resolution was brought forward in the wake of the refusal of Legislature leaders to allow a repeal of the county’s existing 1,000-foot buffer zone law to come to a vote Oct. 2.
County Attorney Claude A. Joerg had recommended the repeal in the face of a rash of court rulings statewide that invalidated numerous local buffer zone laws because they were stricter than the state’s law.
“We have postponed the repeal,” said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, who had introduced Joerg’s recommendation as a resolution at the previous meeting.
The state currently bars Level 3 sex offenders who are on probation or parole from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other place where children gather. The county passed a law in 2008 applying the 1,000-foot rule to Level 2 and Level 3 offenders whose parole or probation terms had expired.
The resolution from Niagara Falls Democrats Dennis F. Virtuoso, Owen T. Steed and Jason A. Zona calls for the state to change its law to match that already in effect in the City of Niagara Falls, whose law so far has not been challenged in court.
The City of Lockport repealed its buffer zone law in August. The City of North Tonawanda’s quarter-mile buffer zone law is currently facing a court challenge. Newfane’s 2,000-foot law was thrown out by County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III earlier this year.
Wojtaszek said the State Senate had five bills in its hopper this year, four of them sponsored by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, to impose more restrictions on sex offenders, but none of them passed.
Wojtaszek said the state also should be asked to apply its law to all sex offenders whose parole, post-release supervision or probation had expired. Virtuoso agreed, and Wojtaszek’s suggestion was adopted.