West Milford’s town council backs proposed bill that would restore residency restrictions for convicted sex offenders
THURSDAY, JUNE 14, 2012
BY DAVID M. ZIMMER
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Township officials are backing proposed state legislation that would restore a local law deemed illegal by the state Supreme Court in 2009.
The legislation, state Senate Bill 380 (S380), would make it illegal for convicted sex offenders with a high risk of re-offense to reside within 2,500 feet of an elementary or secondary school, playground, or child care center. Modeled after legislation recently enacted by the State of Florida, S380 was named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida resident who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005.
West Milford officials adopted municipal ordinance 2005-021 later that year. The local law restricted convicted sex offenders (who are four times more likely to be arrested for a new sex crime than released non-sex offenders, according to the federal Bureau of Justice) from residing within 2,500 feet of any school, park, playground, or day-care center in the 80.4-square-mile exurban community until it was repealed begrudgingly by township representatives in the fall of 2009.
Months earlier, in May 2009, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that state municipalities cannot restrict convicted sex offenders' residency rights by barring them from living near libraries, parks, playgrounds, day-care centers, and schools.
As noted by Mayor Bettina Bieri, the state is now just one of eight without residency restrictions for registered sex offenders. Bieri said she is in full support of state legislators crossing New Jersey off that list. Eight registered sex offenders have West Milford addresses, according to the New Jersey State Police database.
While some representatives wanted to keep ordinance 2005-021 on the books in 2009, the threat of potential lawsuits and the loss of liability insurance coverage ultimately led to the ordinance's elimination. Township officials initially refused to support proposed legislation that would create new residency proximity standards for convicted sex offenders, claiming the 500-foot restriction for sex offenders more than 21 years old was too permissive. The council had inquired about drafting its own proposed legislation to deal with its objections. However, Township Attorney Fred Semrau recommended allowing state representatives to take the lead given the legal intricacies and potential expense involved.
In addition to the 2,500-foot limit that has exemptions for those residing in correctional institutions, mental health facilities, or existing residences prior to the construction of a school, playground, or child care center, S380 would increase penalties for harboring or concealing a sex offender and committing sex crimes against minors. The latter would include the requirement to be electronically monitored by the state via global positioning system technology.
|I shudder to think what the NJ Bookville will look like.|