AUGUSTA – A change to state law to prevent sex offenders from living within 750 feet of the Capitol Area Recreation Association ballfields on the city’s east side earned unanimous approval Friday from a legislative committee.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to recommend passage of L.D. 498, which is sponsored by Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta.

After discussion, the committee amended the bill so that it’s narrowly tailored to address the specific situation in Augusta.

The change, if approved by the full Legislature, will allow the City Council to expand an ordinance it adopted in January that prohibits sex offenders from living within 750 feet of any municipal property where children are the primary users.

The ordinance did not cover the CARA fields because they are not owned by the city but are state-owned property that is leased by a nonprofit.

The amended bill would address just that: state-owned property leased by a nonprofit that is open to the public and is a park or athletic facility where children are the primary users.

“I want to address it as narrowly as possible,” said Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham. “Frankly, I don’t think residency requirements help at all.”

Opponents to the bill who testified last week argued that residency restrictions don’t work because they push sex offenders into other communities and because these types of offenses are usually committed against family members, not strangers.

Although he agreed with the opponents and Plummer, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, voted in support of the bill because he wanted to respond to the concerns expressed by the city of Augusta.

Last week, three city councilors asked lawmakers to make the change to keep sex offenders from living near the fields which are between Hospital Street and Cony Road.

Thousands of children from across the state come to the fields every year for baseball, softball and soccer tournaments.

“I think these kind of restrictions are an illusion,” said Dion, former Cumberland County sheriff. “However, I am influenced by Senator Plummer. I respect the municipality of Augusta.”

 

Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com