Citizens will have an opportunity to share their views on a proposed ordinance that could lower how far sex offenders can reside from child safety zones in Reedsburg.
The public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at Reedsburg City Hall. After the hearing, the council will discuss and take possible final action on the item.
The drafted ordinance lowers the distance between registered sex offenders and a child safety zone in the city from 1,500 to 1,250 feet. The proposal also creates designated offender residency appointed appeal board, which will be appointed by the mayor, and changes the time frame of the original domicile restriction to ten years.
Under the new ordinance, property owners and sex offenders must notify the police department their intent to establish residence in the city. The proposal does not apply to sexually violent offenders under State Statute Chapter 980, according to the drafted ordinance and City Administrator Tim Becker.
Some aspects with Reedsburg’s current ordinance will remain unchanged. Besides parks and schools, the ordinance includes other safety zones children can congregate that are off limits to sex offenders, like movie theaters, golf courses and dance academy’s. The Boys and Girls Club is added to the list as a child safety zone, which wasn’t around when Reedsburg’s current sex offender residency restrictions ordinance was created 13 years ago.
Becker helped draft the current ordinance in 2007 when he was police chief. Since then, case law has challenged how many available living spaces there are in a community for sex offenders to live, Becker said. In Reedsburg, other developments in the city have added child safety zones, such as the Boys and Girls Club and parks.
With the additional developments, the 1,500 foot requirement creates less opportunity for sex offenders to live and draws attention to the ordinance, Becker said. That attention could create more of a window for those who want to challenge the ordinance’s constitutionality.
“What happens is that if your community has no place for sex offenders to live, so you de facto, removed any potential for sex offenders to live there, that’s unconstitutional,” Becker said. “So you have to have someplace for them to live.”
Ten sex offenders are listed with a Reedsburg address on the sex offender residency website. Becker said none live within the city, only in town limits, noting the map on the sex offender residency website.
Currently, offenders can live in places like Old Loganville Road and State Highway 23, which are outside city limits. Maple Air by the industrial park fall outside the sex offender limit, but does not allow sex offenders to live there.
Lowering the limit by 250 feet would create about 50 home lots for sex offenders to live in the city if available for sale and affordable, Becker said.
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League of Municipalities Deputy Director Curt Witynski said other communities around the state have reduced its sex offender residency restrictions over the last ten years. He said the biggest and most recent case was when a federal court “threw out” the village of Pleasant Prairie’s sex offender residency requirements ordinance, which had a 3,000 foot minimum distance between offenders and child safety zones. Pleasant Prairie’s ordinance made 90% of the village off limits to a sex offender after they were released from prison or treatment program, he said.
“There’s a fine line communities have to follow when they’re imposing these restrictions,” Witynski said. “That’s one of end of the spectrum kind of the extreme of regulated to such degree where there’s no or virtually no place to locate a sex offender whose been released from prison.”
He said that fine line, governing bodies can’t be so restrictive it bans a certain type of people from residing in a community, is something communities need to keep in mind.
“You can’t go too far and we’ve got one case showing what the extreme would be so you have to bear that in mind,” he said.
Reedsburg City Attoney Derek Horkan said the result of the case in Pleasant Prairie caused other municipalities in the state to review their ordinances in conformity with the case law.
“If we don’t do anything after seeing cases come down like that that would be inappropriate. So we review everything and if we need to make changes we make those proposals and the council decides whether they are going to approve them,” Horkan said. “We’re reviewing our ordinance like we do on many things. It’s normal practice to review where things are standing because things change overtime.”
Becker said Reedsburg’s current ordinance hasn’t been challenged in court and the idea of amending it to the best practices identified by the courts is to create balance to prevent a potential lawsuit before it arises, he said. Becker said going to court over an ordinance that may not hold up is an expense Reedsburg doesn’t want pay, in taxpayers dollars and the possibility of losing it.
“It’s expensive win, lose or draw when you get your ordinance challenged in court,” Becker said. “So we didn’t think that was the best use of tax dollars to defend an ordinance that may have shortcomings based on the history of ordinances like this. We’d rather just adopt the best practices for our ordinance rather than put an ordinance out there we don’t have full confidence in.”
Becker said he understands parents concerns about the idea of lowering the distance of how far sex offenders can be from child safety zones, but the city also wants to maintain the ordinance so it isn’t challenged and possibly thrown out by a court. Not having a place for sex offenders to live also creates challenges with sex offenders reporting their address and possibly becoming homeless, making it harder to know their whereabouts, Becker said.
Becker said Reedsburg’s worked with Horkan and attorney’s at Cities and Villages Mutual Insurance Company to develop the proposed ordinance to current best practices with other ordinances from municipalities who have had similar challenges. He said the full adoption of the ordinance will ultimately be up to the council to decide, but he also wants council members to understand Reedsburg could risk litigation if changes aren’t made.
“Maybe that’s a trade off that they want to make and I’m fine with that too,” Becker said. “But as professional staff we’re going to recommend the best practices we see.”
Editors not: This article was edited at 11:19 a.m. Jan. 14 to clarify the living situation at Maple Air.
Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.