By Danny Schrafel
The Town of Huntington’s attorneys are researching whether a recent ruling from the highest court in the state invalidates a nearly 10-year-old town law dictating where sex offenders cannot live.
The town board last month considered initiating a repeal of its Child Protection Act legislation, enacted in 2005, which bans level 2 and 3 sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) of a school, child daycare center, day camp, park, beach or playground. A resolution scheduling a public hearing on a repeal was pulled from the agenda at the March 10 town board meeting.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter said Monday that the board “just wanted to have more research” before they take any actions.
The town law, which is more restrictive than state law, has come into question because a recent ruling by the state’s highest court struck down a similar ordinance enacted by Nassau County. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 17 that Nassau County’s 2006 law prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, parks, youth centers and other areas where children are likely to congregate was invalid because New York State has jurisdiction over sex-offender regulations.
The state currently restricts level 3 sex offenders and those on parole and probation from willfully entering school grounds or living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center.
Simply put, the court said that state law trumps ordinances.
“In recent years, dozens of municipalities in this State have enacted similar laws that prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, daycare centers, parks, youth centers and other areas where children are likely to congregate. That such laws are proliferating at an accelerated rate is hardly surprising, given the significant interest involved, namely, the protection of children from sex offenders. Local governments have, understandably, relied on their police power in furthering that interest,” the court ruling, penned by Justice Eugene Pigott, reads in part. “But a local government’s police power is not absolute. When the State has created a comprehensive and detailed regulatory scheme with regard to the subject matter that the local law attempts to regulate, the local interest must yield to that of the State in regulating that field.”
State lawmakers have responded by pushing for legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school building. Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) is a cosponsor of the Assembly version of the bill.
State Senator John Flanagan (R-E. Northport) announced last month that the Senate had passed seven bills, which would, in addition to school-building ban outlined in the Assembly law, prohibit certain sex offenders from knowingly being within 1,000 feet of where pre-K or kindergarten instruction occurs; requires the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to receive “regular updates” of all elementary and secondary-school locations to ensure residency restrictions for level 2 and 3 offenders are being followed; reduces the amount of time it takes to make a risk-level determination; ban sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of their victim’s residence and require sex offenders to comply with requirements in any home they reside in more than two days a week.
State Senator Michael Venditto also sponsored legislation that would allow local municipalities to make their own sex-offender laws.
Should any of these proposals advance toward adoption, both the Senate and the Assembly would have to create a single version passed by both legislative bodies.
While the flurry of legislative activity is likely to amend state law, some experts argue that geographic restrictions are not the answer.
A study by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, which is dedicated to preventing sexual abuse through research, education, and shared learning techniques aimed at promoting evidence-based practice, public policy and community strategies, argues residence restriction laws are largely ineffective.
“In tracking the re-offense rate of a group of released sex offenders, the Minnesota Department of Corrections concluded that “not a single re-offense would have been prevented by an ordinance restricting where sex offenders could live,” the report, “A Reasoned Approach,” written by Joan Tabachnick and Alisa Klein in 2011, reads.
Remaining on the books is the county’s Community Protection Act, which went into effect in 2013 andprovides for “heightened monitoring” of the 1,000-plus registered sex offenders who reside in Suffolk County.
According to county officials, since the implementation of the Community Protection Act, there have been no reported cases of registered sex offenders reoffending in the county.
If Huntington’s sex-offender law must be stricken, a vote to set a public hearing to do so could be held as soon as Tuesday’s town board meeting.