February 20, 2013

Measure would close loophole in Augusta sex-offender rules

The proposal would bar sex offenders from living near state-owned ballfields on the east side of the city.

BY SUSAN M. COVER Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA – A loophole in existing state law that would allow sex offenders to live near the Capitol Area Recreation Association ballfields on the city's east side is the subject of legislation sponsored by Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta.

City Councilor David Rollins contacted Pouliot about a bill after the council's January passage of an ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from living within 750 feet of any municipal property where children are the primary users.

Rollins took action because the association's ballfields are owned by the state and run by an association that leases the land, meaning the City Council has no power to limit access to neighborhoods based on the proximity of the fields.

"It stuck out like a sore thumb," Rollins said, noting that the Glenridge Garden Apartments are nearby.

The complex includes baseball, softball and soccer fields. It is used by hundreds of children each year, Rollins said.

The association formed in 1974, and the group entered into a lease with the state for the 80 acres between Hospital Street and Cony Road.

In 1994, the group obtained a 99-year lease with the state for the land, which had been managed by the former Augusta Mental Health Institute.

Pouliot is sponsoring L.D. 498 to help the city expand the sex-offender restriction to the playing fields.

"The council in Augusta chose to adopt the most restrictive ordinance allowed by law," Pouliot said, "but they couldn't do anything with the ... fields because of the nuance (in ownership)."

At the urging of a local mother, the council voted unanimously to 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, such as parks.

More than 130 registered sex offenders live in Augusta, giving the city the highest percentage of sex offenders of any municipality in Maine, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

A 2009 state law allows municipalities to restrict where certain sex offenders live, although no city or town can ban them from living within its borders.

A co-sponsor, Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea. said she wants municipalities to be able to tailor restrictions to their own needs. While she understands that sex offenders who have served their time have certain rights, Sanderson wants children to be able to play on public grounds without worrying about their safety.

"I'm a firm believer in the protection of our children," she said. "They have rights, too."

The bill was referred to the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday and will be scheduled for a public hearing in the coming weeks.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

 

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