County to approve sex-offender ordinance

El Dorado County’s sheriff, district attorney and superintendent of schools have united to push for an ordinance restricting registered sex offenders from loitering or congregating at certain public places.

A first reading of the proposed ordinance was posted at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting and introduced by DA Vern Pierson.

“Basically, this is a tool for law enforcement and school districts regarding registered sex offenders,” Pierson opened. “It’s intended to prevent registered sex offenders from hanging out at parks, playgrounds (and schools).”

Because of constitutional concerns, he explained that the recommended ordinance set a limit of 300 feet from such locations rather than the broader 2,000 feet common to other state or local ordinances. And he briefly described the process whereby a sex offender would be required to register.

If living in the city, the individual would report to and register with the chief of police. If residing in the county, he or she would register with the county sheriff, Pierson said.

The ordinance would aim at what Pierson called a “narrow group of individuals that tend to (frequent school yards, parks and playgrounds).” On the  other hand, he noted that within another narrow set of circumstances, an individual could have legitimate reasons to be in such locations.

As an example, he said a registered sex offender who is a parent may be allowed to drop off or pick up children at school or a playground, but the individual would be required to obtain very specific “permission” in writing from the jurisdiction in which he or she is registered.

Responding to supervisors’ questions, Pierson explained that the ordinance would not result in “eviction” of someone who has lived in the same place for 15 years simply because it happens to be closer than the 300 feet from a proscribed site. Likewise, he explained the law “could say you can do this but not that.”

“You can walk past the park but you cannot go into the park, so it’s about congregating, not living near,” he said.

In the same vein, county Superintendent of Schools Vicki Barber told the board that “there are many related issues to consider,” and she enumerated several, including attendance on school field trips or at school sports or other activities.

Supervisors Ray Nutting and Ron Briggs brought up other circumstances that could warrant inclusion in the ordinance. Briggs raised the issue of  “churches or warming centers or homeless shelters,” while Nutting spoke about the many areas in the “rural 85 percent of the county” where families play and swim and do recreational activities.

Pierson explained that “there’s a punitive aspect, but overall the ordinance should be seen as preventive.” He also repeatedly suggested that the best person to make those kinds of decisions would be the sheriff or police chief, that is “the person who best knows the individual and the situation.”

State law requires a second public reading of the proposed ordinance, and that will occur Tuesday Feb. 14. If adopted, the ordinance will take effect March 14.

Pierson could not be reached for additional comment before press time Tuesday.

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Posted by on Feb 8 2012.
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