Wed, 28 Sep 2005

Majority Legislators Call for Sex Offender Residency Restrictions - Proposed Law Prohibits Residency Near Schools, Parks - Antun Papers

Majority Legislators Call for Sex Offender Residency Restrictions
Proposed Law Prohibits Residency Near Schools, Parks

By Carisa Keane of Antun Papers

The county’s Democratic majority has proposed a law that would greatly enhance Megan’s Law, placing residency restrictions on registered Level II and III - the most egregious - sex offenders. This law is an extension of legislation county lawmakers enacted which mandates the notification of moderate and high risk convicted sex offenders’ whereabouts. If passed, the residency restriction law would give Nassau County one of the harshest sex offender laws on the books.
The legislation, sponsored by Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), prohibits sex offenders from establishing residence or temporary residence within a 600 foot radius of public, private, parochial or secondary schools and any county, town, village or city-run public park that contains a playground.
"This is monumental legislation ... By developing this radius, our children will be able to play with other children in comfort and have the peace of mind that they are not being preyed upon," Legislator Abrahams said at a Sept. 19 press conference.
Abrahams is convinced the legislation, although it does not apply to those offenders who have established a residence prior to Sept. 1, 2005, will go a long way in protecting the most vulnerable of populations. The law allows offenders 60 days to move after they have been notified. Failing to do so is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or up to one-year imprisonment.
Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, said the national Megan’s Law helpline receives between 10 and 30 calls a week from concerned citizens terrified that convicted sex offenders are living across the street from the schools their children attend or parks they play at. "They’re living there on their own or in some cases being placed there by state parole," she noted.
Ahearn believes statutory guidance is clearly needed. "We need to know - and so do sex offenders - how many feet they can live from where children are congregating ... While residency restriction laws will not eliminate child sexual abuse, they are certainly going to reduce the potential for victimization," she said.
Deputy Presiding Officer Roger Corbin (D-Westbury) recalled the story of a convicted sex offender living next to and working at a New Cassel day care center and believes this law would prevent such a situation from ever happening again. "It will not happen in the communities which all of us represent once this becomes law," he said. "This is what being a public official is all about -protecting the lives of our citizenry."
A mother of a 10-year-old who comes and goes by bus, fellow Democratic Legislator Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) believes the fear lies within everyone, even those without children. "It’s an issue so important to everyone in the community that our children - the little brown eyes, the little blue eyes and the little green eyes that look so innocently at you - can come and go freely as we once did and not have to be afraid of predators."
Sex offenders hold the highest rate of recidivism compared to any other violent felon released back into the community, according to Justice Department statistics. Although there are approximately 551,000 registered sex offenders in New York State, Ahearn believes these types of laws will make a difference. "It’s legislation like this that demonstrates the priority that a government can place on an issue to protect our most vulnerable," she said.
Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) is sponsoring a law that places a residency restriction on all registered Level II and III sex offenders. Calling the legislation "monumental," he joins his Democratic colleagues at a Sept. 19 press conference. Photo by Carisa Keane
However, laws of this nature often face scrutiny. Legislator Dave Mejias (D-North Massapequa) said lawmakers strive to ensure constitutional issues won’t get challenged in court. "This law will survive scrutiny," he said. "For one, it does not create an exclusionary zone. Rather, it only regulates establishment of a residence. Two, it does not apply retroactively prior to Sept. 1, 2005." Legislator Mejias cited a similar case and law in Iowa that the Eighth Circuit upheld. Alabama, Illinois and Florida have similar laws that too have been upheld. "The idea is to be as tough as possible while, at the same time, making sure the law survives," Legislator Mejias continued. "The last thing we want is for this law to fail in the court systems."
Eighteen states across the nation currently have some form of residency restriction, whether its 10 percent of rental units banned from convicted sex offenders or in Alabama, where they are prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of a public or private school. Further, Suffolk legislators have proposed an even stricter version of the law, including Level I sex offenders and a one-quarter mile residency restriction.
Ahearn explained that such a law must cater to differing population densities in order to withstand constitutional muster. "You have to keep in mind that when you create a law like this it’s really well done on a local level because there’s population densities that differ from town to town, county to county and state to state. So 2,000 feet may work out in a more rural area but it wouldn’t work in a county like Nassau," she said.
Nassau County currently has no residency restrictions for convicted sex offenders. Ahearn noted a number of pieces of legislation have been introduced but have yet to pass the Senate and Assembly. "It’s not for lack of support," she assured. "It’s because you can’t paint a broad picture for every city and county across the state ... If you create a zone where a sex offender can’t live at all, the law will not be upheld ... There has to be some restriction but not a complete exclusion."
Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) added, "This law will serve as an excellent companion law to Megan’s law, as it addresses the omission in the state statute that allows offenders to move dangerously close to areas where children are regularly found in large numbers," she said.
As county legislators enter the budget season, they intend to urge the administration to provide funds for a dedicated position in the police and/or probation department to properly carry out the law’s intent. "Without that you can have the best laws in the world but you don’t have the possibility of enforcement," Presiding Officer Jacobs noted.
Abrahams is sure opponents will stand against the legislation but is confident the law will hold its own. "I stand for the rights of children and I think it’s important that we are speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves," he said. The law is expected to come before the legislature some time next month.

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