By Brooke Crum
A restrictive sex offender ordinance recently passed by Nederland's City Council is on hold for six months while the city explores its legal defensibility.
The ordinance, which was in effect for about a week, banned sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of dance studios, libraries and churches.
It was suspended Monday by the city council.
City Manager Chris Duque said the city's attorney advised suspending the rule for 180 days to allow time to examine pending and recently resolved court cases in other cities that apply to sex offender residency restrictions.
Mary Sue Molnar, executive director of Texas Voices, a group that advocates for "common-sense laws and policies" regarding sex-offender registration, said that she was pleased the ordinance had been suspended for now because "it's neither necessary nor legal."
She said Nederland's ordinance was drafted out of the misguided concern that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism, which she said voluminous research contradicts.
She said 90 percent of such offenses are committed by people not on the registry.
Such laws are driven by "fear and hysteria," Molnar said.
"There is no evidence, no studies, no statistics that support the theory that imposition of residency restrictions or child safety zones improves public safety," she said.
Courts, meanwhile, have questioned the constitutionality of communities imposing restrictions that effectively make it impossible for sex offenders to live anywhere at all.
Last month a federal judge in Colorado tossed out an ordinance similar to Nederland's, stating that if every city and county in the state enacted a similar policy, sex offenders would be banned from the entire state.
One case Nederland will look at is pending against the City of Lewisville, which has a similar ordinance banning convicted sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of places children typically gather, such as video arcades and public swimming pools.
A registered sex offender filed a lawsuit against Lewisville last year, citing the unconstitutionality of the ordinance.
After 180 days, the city attorney will present his research findings to the city council, Duque said.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety's online Sex Offender Registry, Nederland has 27 registered sex offenders living in its city limits.
Nederland's suspended ordinance restricted sex offenders from living near places where four or more children would gather, such as twirling studios, karate academies and any other facilities that offer art or sport classes.
It also required sex offenders to post "no candy" signs, maintained and issued by Nederland police, in front of their homes for Halloween on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Texas Voices' Molnar pointed out that since a significant majority of Texas' more than 72,000 registered do not live alone, such ordinances often unfairly force whole families to relocate.
She said that municipalities that pass such ordinances might "think they're doing a good thing, but they're not."
While Nederland's new ordinance is suspended, a 2006 regulation forbidding sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks and day care centers will be in effect.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
TX - Recently-passed sex offender laws in Nederland on hold