Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Keith Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org
AUGUSTA — City councilors unanimously approved a ban on sex offenders living within 750 feet of schools and municipal property such as parks where children are the primary users Thursday.
After a mother urged them to take action to protect the city’s children, councilors waived the normally required second reading of the ordinance and took a final vote on the proposal, meaning the new rules take effect in 30 days.
The ordinance will prohibit registered sex offenders who have committed sexual crimes against children under age 14 from living within 750 feet of public and private schools or any municipal property where children are the primary users.
Toni Richardson, mother of a fourth-grade girl and a sixth-grade boy at Gilbert Elementary School, urged councilors to pass the ordinance to help protect the city’s children from sexual predators. She said she’s afraid to let her children walk from her Northern Avenue home to their elementary school because of the number of sex offenders along the way.
She said she was sexually abused as a child, cited statistics indicating that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys would be sexually abused, and warned that sexual abuse of a child can affect the victim for life.
“You have before you an opportunity to protect the children of Augusta,” said Richardson, who showed councilors a map with numerous red dots, indicating where sex offenders live, near Gilbert Elementary School.
“Several of my kids’ friends walk to school. But I’m in a situation — look at the red dots — where I would never let my children walk to school. Because of those red dots, it is a very scary situation,” she said.
The rules will not be retroactive. Sex offenders already living in Augusta, even if they are within 750 feet of a school or park, will not have to move.
City Manager William Bridgeo said 134 registered sex offenders live in Augusta, giving the city the highest percentage of sex offenders of any municipality in Maine.
A 2009 state law allows municipalities to restrict where certain sex offenders live. Municipalities cannot ban sex offenders from living within their borders, just set limits. The proposed ordinance in Augusta essentially would enact the strictest limits on sex offender residency allowed by the state law, according to Mayor William Stokes, who is also a Maine deputy attorney general and chief of the state’s criminal division.
The ordinance does not prohibit sex offenders from visiting parks or schools, just from living near them.
Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said forbidding sex offenders to live near public spots frequented by children will reduce the likelihood of a sex offender having children walking by or hanging out near his or her residence frequently, thus limiting his or her impulses to commit an act against a child.
The ordinance directs the city’s planning office to prepare and maintain an official map of the city, showing prohibited locations for restricted sex offenders. Resident sex offenders who violate the ordinance, after 30 days’ written notice from the city, could be fined up to $500 a day until they move.
Property owners who rent a residence within the prohibited areas to a restricted sex offender also could face sanctions under the ordinance.
City Councilor Mark O’Brien expressed concern that that provision might exceed what state law allows. Langsdorf said he doesn’t think the city’s ordinance goes beyond the law.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647