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Public safety committee reaches sexual predator ordinance decision

Hastings City Hall (File photo)

The public safety committee reached a consensus during their second meeting regarding a predatory offender ordinance that will be recommended to Hastings City Council.

City Council members Lori Braucks, Lisa Leifeld and Tina Folch, City Attorney Dan Fluegel, City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee, and Chief of Police Bryan Schafer were in attendance.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the drafted ordinance, idea of a retroactivity, the impact of various "safety zone" ranges, listen to public comment, and discuss a recommendation to bring forward to City Council.

At the March 20 public safety meeting, committee members addressed concern about the effectiveness of instating an ordinance. Studies and statistics that the committee looked at suggest the ordinance would not be effective. There was still some concern about the effectiveness at the April 6 meeting. Braucks said that the reason she would support an ordinance is so that it might act as a deterrent when the Minnesota Department of Corrections is placing a sex offender in the community. Leifeld said that even though there is no evidence to support the effectiveness of an ordinance, it certainly wouldn't increase it.

Committee members came to the conclusion that retroactivity is not something they would want to include in an ordinance. That would mean that any level three sex offender living in one of the "safety zones" before the ordinance is put into effect would not be forced to leave. Braucks said that the committee should be looking at the ordinance as a whole and not specific to one or two situations. Folch also brought up a situation in Milwaukee where a retroactive approach was taken, resulting in more homelessness and crime.

Maps were provided as visual aids in the discussion of the impact of various "safety zone" ranges. Buffers surrounded schools, day care facilities and parks in the range of 750, 1,200, 1,500 and 2,000 feet.

Committee members made the determination that a 2,000-foot buffer would be too large because it would cover nearly the entire city. Sex offenders who are being placed in the community do have the right to choose where they want to live. Fluegel said that the standard for determining a buffer is to make sure there is a reasonable amount of affordable housing for a sex offender to live.

The committee discussed removing a buffer zone in the parks due to the level of "safety zone" coverage within the city. If the buffer around parks were removed, it would allow for a more reasonable amount of area for affordable housing. Before coming to a conclusion, the committee asked for public comment. Community members advocated for the inclusion of parks in a buffer zone.

Committee members determined that they would recommend a 750-foot buffer zone from schools, licensed child care centers and parks. They would also exclude the section of the drafted ordinance that would exclude level three sex offenders from certain activities in the community. The recommendation will be brought to City Council in May.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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