LANCASTER – The Lancaster City Council Tuesday approved an ordinance that imposes restrictions and regulations upon registered sex offenders in addition to those imposed under state law.
Specifically, the new ordinance prohibits registered sex offenders:
- From living within 2,000 feet of any school, park or day care center.
- From living at a residence or hotel/motel/inn where another registered sex offender already lives (with a few exceptions).
- From being within 300 feet of a school, day care, park or bus stop near a park, playground, public library, public museum, crisis center or shelter, arcade, youth sports facility and amusement park, where children are present (with a few exceptions).
- From decorating their homes or answering their doors to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. (Read the Ordinance No. 981 here.).
Any registered sex offender who violates the ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, eight people spoke against the ordinance. Many called it unconstitutional and said it was an unreasonable burden for people who have already completed their court-imposed prison sentences.
“What if you were known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Linda Cordero asked the council. “This law is punishment, it’s unconstitutional, it’s a poor use of city resources, I’m asking that you please table it.”
“The media, victim activist groups, and others have fueled the moral panic regarding sex offenders with emotional hyperbole and exaggerated unsubstantiated statements. This has created a witch hunt with registrants as the target,” said Kathleen Garner, who quoted several statistics and sources in making her point.
Janice Bellucci urged the council to look at the issue from a historical perspective and compared the ordinance to the Salem witch trials, the Japanese-American Internment and racism.
“There have been other times, as I said, when our country lost its focus and denied the constitutional rights of individuals, and I’m telling you that you’re headed there if indeed you pass this ordinance,” she said.
Bellucci, an attorney who has written letters to the council opposing the ordinance, said it would undoubtedly be challenged in court.
“You will be sued as a city and you will be sued as individuals because we brought to you facts that you chose to ignore,” Bellucci told council members. “It’s a waste of the city’s money to defend itself from a lawsuit that could in fact be avoided; it’s going to be costly to you as individuals, as well.”
Council members had harsh words for the critics.
“You can spout all your statistics, one child is too many and we’ll do our best to protect that child,” said council member Marvin Crist. “We get sued all the time… and we’ll fight you in court to protect our children.”
Council member, Sandra Johnson, said she was offended by any comparisons between sex offender restrictions and racial discrimination.
“I’m offended that we can even categorize those two in the same sentence,” Johnson said.
“They weren’t born that way, they made a decision and they did something wrong,” said council member Ron Smith said. “And for you people out there to equate that with 9-11 and veterans and racial discrimination… you should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
The council voted 3-0 (with Mayor R. Rex Parris and Ken Mann absent) in favor of the new ordinance. (Read Ordinance No. 981 here).