A proposed ordinance to limit where registered child sex offenders can live and travel in Portage will soon be on its way to the Common Council for consideration.
Along with the restrictions, however, the proposed ordinance includes an appeals process, by which offenders can be exempt from the rules if they can show they pose no danger.
The Common Council’s Legislative and Regulatory Committee has been tweaking this proposed ordinance for months, and on Monday the panel approved the most recent version, with minor changes to be incorporated by City Attorney Jesse Spankowski.
The Common Council can propose and adopt further amendments before considering whether to adopt or reject the ordinance.
Portage Police Lt. Dan Garrigan said Portage currently has no laws on its books limiting where registered sex offenders may live, or how close they may come to places where children typically congregate, such as schools, parks and day care centers.
Committee member Mark Hahn, a former Portage police officer, said he thinks the ordinance, as proposed, would both protect the public and offer registered sex offenders the opportunity to reintegrate into the community.
“I don’t know why anyone would say we’re not trying to be fair,” Hahn said.
The proposed ordinance would affect anyone who is required to register, by state law, as a perpetrator of any offense against a child.
It would prohibit such people from living, permanently or temporarily, within 500 feet of any protected location, which the ordinance defines as school property, athletic fields, day care centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, recreational trails or “private places” that are open to the public where children are likely to congregate.
Registered child offenders also would be prohibited from loitering within 100 feet of any of these places “at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals.…”
Garrigan noted that registered offenders sometimes end up in Portage, even though they were residents of other communities in or near Columbia County, because those other communities have ordinances so strict that almost no location is lawful for registered offenders. Also, he said, Portage is the county seat of Columbia County, and it’s often more convenient for registered offenders to stay in touch with their parole or probation officer, or other professional support, if they live in Portage.
In 2018, Garrigan told the committee, three such offenders were located in Portage – one in March, two in July.
Registered offenders might be assigned to a state Department of Corrections halfway house on East Mullett Street, which Garrigan said primarily is for sex offenders but includes male offenders of multiple types.
A person may be required by law to register as a child offender for many years after completing a sentence or other requirements. Garrigan said some of the offenders were convicted as teenagers, stemming from a sexual relationship with another teen who had not reached the age of consent.
That’s where the proposed ordinance’s appeals process might be applied.
As originally proposed, the process would require someone wishing to be exempt from the ordinance’s requirements to appeal to the Portage Police Department, where the particulars of the person’s conviction and post-conviction behavior would be investigated.
The police department would then pass its findings to the Legislative and Regulatory Committee, which would hold a hearing and rule on whether an exemption should be granted.
Mike Charles, chairman of the Legislative and Regulatory Committee, said the hearings would be announced under the state’s open meetings law, but likely would be closed during deliberations so details an be discussed that might not be available in publicly available court documents.
The ordinance, as proposed, gives the Legislative and Regulatory Committee the final say on whether an exemption is granted, with no provision to appeal a denial to the Common Council.
One of the two changes that the committee authorized was to establish a waiting period of no more than 45 days from the time a registered offender submits an appeal to the police department until the committee hears the appeal.
The other proposed change was to clarify that the criteria to be considered in the appeal include, but are not limited to, those specified in the ordinance – such as the registered offender’s history, age at which the offense was committed, age of the victim, degree of force used and the existence of other, non-sex-related convictions.
“Anything and everything” could be a factor in what the committee might decide regarding granting an exemption to the ordinance, Garrigan said.
The proposed ordinance is not on the agenda for the next Common Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers in the Municipal Building, 115 W. Pleasant St.