Wed, 20 Dec 2006

Legal doubts on Long Beach sex offender limits - Newsday

Legal doubts on Long Beach sex offender limits
Newsday Staff Writer
December 20, 2006, 11:08 PM EST

A restrictive residency requirement for sex offenders approved by the Long Beach City Council might not pass the constitutionality test, legal observers said Wednesday.
The council late Tuesday passed the measure, effective immediately, 5-0.
The ordinance prohibits registered sex offenders in Long Beach from living 1,000 feet from schools and 500 feet from playgrounds, bus stops and areas that might house or do business with vulnerable populations such as women and children.
Many residents who attended a hearing before the vote said they were divided on the issue, but in the end supported protective measures against sex offenders.
"Until we have more tools in the localities, localities are going to do what we have to do to protect the community," said council member James Hennessey.
Tara Keenan-Thomson of the Nassau chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the law could push sex offenders out of communities and away from treatment and proper supervision.
"Restricting people out of huge slots of land based on their criminal past could be subject to constitutional tests," she said.
Robin Charlow, a Hofstra University professor who teaches constitutional law, said the ordinance could violate the offenders’ right to substantive due process.
"If you’re completely restricting them from effectively living in the town without saying so, but nevertheless doing so, I think that could be attacked," Charlow said.
Mindy Warshaw, a Long Beach resident who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, said she supports having city police enforce the ordinance. She said civil rights violations are a major concern for her, but if given a choice, she would "rather protect the people."
The bill’s passage also raised concerns about how local municipalities would enforce new county restrictions against sex offenders.
The county’s measure, enforced by county police, is similar to the Long Beach version, except it does not include bus stops.
Huntington and East Rockaway recently passed their own measures, and Long Beach council members felt the need to have their city police commissioner head enforcement efforts, saying a loophole in county law doesn’t mention cities.
Nassau County officials said they also were concerned with Long Beach because it’s an island. Long Beach is only 4,000 feet wide at its widest point and the city’s 3½-mile-long beach is considered a public park.
David Guggerty, majority counsel for the Nassau Legislature, said Wednesday the restrictive distance of the county law was reduced to 1,000 feet from a quarter-mile to prevent exclusionary zones in places like Long Beach.
Legis. Kevan Abrahams, who drafted the Nassau County law, said he was concerned that if the ordinance kept sex offenders off Long Beach it could be challenged and possibly overturned.
"It’s unfortunate, because municipalities should take steps to strengthen their people and we have to make sure counseling and GPS monitoring is a part of it," Abrahams said. "The residency restriction is not enough."

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