The village board of Alexandria got some valuable advice from the ACLU about its proposed ordinance that would establish new restrictions on where sex offenders could live.
The board ought to take heed. Following the ACLU's recommendations could help the board steer clear of legal travails.
The desire to protect children is understandable. But there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The legal restrictions the board is considering go too far.
The board last week gave first-round approval to the ordinance. Two more board votes -- scheduled for Oct. 3 and Nov. 13 -- are necessary before the ordinance will take effect.
The proposed law for the south-central Nebraska town with a population of 177 would forbid registered sex offenders from living within 500 feet of schools, village -owned and -maintained parks, licensed child care centers and any school bus that stops on village property. The ordinance would fine landlords who rent to sex offenders $500 per day.
As the ACLU pointed out, “The difficulty with the draft is that it goes beyond what state law permits and has been pre-empted by existing statutes -- and therefore violates several sections of the Nebraska state Constitution and the United States Constitution.”
The ACLU cited three problems with the law. First, the ordinance would restrict sex offenders from living near playgrounds and school bus stops. State law sets restrictions only for schools. Second, the ACLU said, the board must adopt the grandfather clause in state law, not set a new date. Lastly, by setting a penalty for landlords who rent to sex offenders, the ordinance creates a new crime, which is beyond the board's authority.
The board drafted Ordinance 147 at the request of a mother who was concerned about raising her children near registered sex offenders. One offender lives across the alley from her backyard. A second sexual offender with an adjacent backyard moved away after the mother went to the village board.
A few years ago, there was something of a fad among local governments to establish residency restrictions for sex offenders.
Fortunately, the Legislature stepped in to set statewide standards. Otherwise, Nebraska would have ended up with a patchwork of local laws that would have been confusing and unevenly enforced.
For the Alexandria village board to spend more time debating the proposed restrictions would just be wasted effort. If people in Alexandria, or any other town in Nebraska, want tighter restrictions, they need to go to the Legislature. The village board would just be wasting its time.