By Paul Koenig
Overly restrictive rules do more harm than good, experts claim; state law also needs consideration
GARDINER -- City councilors are considering whether to restrict where some sex offenders can live, while officials a few miles north in Augusta are already debating a similar ordinance.
The issue in Gardiner arose after residents around Lincoln Avenue expressed concern to Councilor Scott Williams about a sex offender who moved into the neighborhood in September.
- So are we going to have a debate and pass more laws any time an ex-sex offender moves into your neighborhood?
"There was a lot of outrage about it," he said.
- Just because there is outrage doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. People in society have been outraged by a lot of other things as well, but I don't see you passing draconian laws about those issues.
Gardiner councilors meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall. In Augusta, city councilors will continue their discussion at an informational meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers at City Center.
Williams and residents in the neighborhood were surprised to learn that the city of Gardiner doesn't have any ordinances restricting where sex offenders can live.
"I believe it help keeps our kids safe in school, and I think it gives people a good sense of mind that their kids will be safe around day cares and schools," he said, regarding residential restrictions.
- Well that is a false sense of security. If someone is so dangerous, and is intent on committing a crime, do you think just because they cannot live near one of these places that it will prevent them from committing a crime? It only exiles people, making it almost impossible to find a home or job.
Maine law says municipalities may prohibit sex offenders convicted of Class A, B or C crimes committed against minors younger than 14 years of age from living with 750 feet a public or private elementary, middle or high school or a municipally owned property where children are the primary users.
Williams said he's seeking to establish an ordinance similar to the town of Oakland's residential restriction ordinance, which prohibits sex offenders from living with 750 feet of a school that provides services to 25 or more students under the age of 14 years, or any licensed day care that is clearly marked with at least one sign.
But Maine's law doesn't specifically allow for residential restrictions around day cares.
Oakland Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he wasn't aware of the discrepancy and that the town intended to be in sync with the Maine law when they amended the ordinance in 2009, after the state passed its law.
"We certainly don't want to be outside of state law," he said.
Williams also said he wasn't aware that day cares can't be included in restrictions of sex offenders' residences.
The Legislature passed the law dictating what restrictions municipalities could enact in 2009, in response to communities enacting overly strict residential restrictions for sex offenders, said state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, who cosponsored the bill. Gerzofsky said the original bill he supported didn't allow municipalities to restrict where sex offenders can live, but the 750-foot maximum distance in the final law was a compromise.
The city of Westbrook had an ordinance on the books banning any sex offenders whose crime was committed against a minor from living or working within 2,500 feet of any school, day care, park or recreation area frequented by minors. City councilors grudgingly amended the ordinance in 2009 to comply with state law, according to a Portland Press Herald story at the time.
Opponents of residential restrictions for sex offenders say they can have the opposite effect on well-intentioned towns looking to keep children safe.