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Panel approves stricter laws on sex offenders

Friday, January 20, 2006

(Bill Cegelka)

Posted on Fri, Jan. 20, 2006

LEXINGTON TO BEGIN DRAFTING TWO ORDINANCES

By Michelle Ku
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER

Two ordinances that would restrict where registered sex offenders live and spend time in Lexington were given the go-ahead by an Urban County Council subcommittee yesterday.

The subcommittee unanimously directed the city's law department to draft ordinances prohibiting registered sex offenders from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of a Lexington public park, pool or playground.

The Lexington ordinances are part of a national push to protect children after a spate of highly publicized cases in Florida and elsewhere in which children were abducted or murdered by convicted sex offenders.

But residency and loitering laws aimed at sex offenders have drawn objections from civil-liberties groups.

Studies have shown that imposing restrictions on residency and where people can be does not increase public safety, Beth Wilson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said in an interview yesterday.

"A lot of legislators -- local, state and federal -- are trying to prove that they're tough on crime when they're doing something that isn't protecting the public and is doing serious damage to our freedoms," she said.

The council's services committee will discuss the proposed sex offender laws at its Feb. 7 meeting.

Lexington's loitering law would also restrict sex offenders from loitering within 1,000 feet of schools and child-care centers, said Councilman Bill Cegelka, who proposed the tighter restrictions on sex offenders.

State law already prohibits supervised sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care center.

Both city laws would apply only to sex offenders under supervision, meaning they are required to regularly check in with law enforcement officials.

Of the 251 registered sex offenders living in Fayette County, 80 to 90 are supervised.

After announcing his proposal for tougher sex offender regulations, Cegelka said people have asked him to consider extending restrictions to include privately owned recreation areas, such as the YMCA and neighborhood swimming pools.

"Not only is the public supportive, but they've provided us with additional ideas for ways to protect children," Cegelka said.

Cegelka's proposal doesn't differentiate between types of sex offenders.

It isn't effective to have a blanket policy on sex offenders since not all sex offenders are child molesters, Jill Levenson, a professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., said in an interview. She researches criminal justice policy pertaining to sex offenders.

It's not necessary to restrict a 19-year-old who was convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old girlfriend, Levenson said. It's a statutory crime, but was otherwise consensual, she said.

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