Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sex offender laws need thinking out

By Heber Taylor,
The Daily News

A lot of people are having second thoughts about new laws on sex offenders’ accommodation arrrangements. You should, too.

The topic is going to come up when the Texas Legislature convenes in January.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, among others, campaigned on a pledge to make some version of “Jessica’s Law” a priority.

Californians just passed Proposition 83, which effectively bans sex offenders from living in some cities.

The law, which already has been challenged in court, makes it a crime to live within 2,000 feet of any school or park.

League City, Santa Fe and Friendswood are among the cities in Texas that have adopted similar limits on where registered sex offenders can live.

The Texas state attorney general has been asked whether those limits are constitutional.

One of the problems is that, in some cities, all residential property is within 2,000 feet of a school or park. That means it’s illegal for a person on the registry to live in town.

Can you really ban a person from living in a city? And, if we decide that sex offenders are so heinous that they don’t have that right, can we ban people who committed other crimes from our cities?

And if so, which ones? Murderers seem a likely start. How about burglars? Where do you draw the line?

And, if we can ban people from a city, can we ban people from living in the state? As the Texas Constitution says no, how much further back do we have to step in drawing the line?

And what about the people who have served their sentences, learned their lesson and have never offended again?

There are people on the list of registered sex offenders who have done just that. They’re living here in Galveston County.

If they now live within 2,000 feet of a park or school, how should we treat them? Do we force them to sell their homes and move?

Do we consider them safe as long as they own the house — but then force them to leave town if they have to sell the house and can’t find another place that’s not too close to a park or school?

And how does the sale of a home change that person from a rehabilitated citizen into to a threat to society?

Californians were willing to spend millions to put global positioning system monitors on all sex offenders. Do we put the electronic bracelets on those who’ve paid their debt to society? Or is that punishing a person again for the same crime — after he’s served his sentence?

And what about those who committed sex offenses 60 years ago, have paid their debt to society and are now in nursing homes? And what if that nursing home is too close to a park? Do we call the ambulances to take them across the line?

During the election, the rhetoric against sex offenders was a great campaign issue.

But the rush to limit rights as they are now defined in the Texas and U.S. Constitutions is a dangerous game.

This process warrants far more thought than it’s been given.

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