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Public Safety Committee discusses residency restrictions for sex offenders

The City Council's Public Safety Committee met March 20 to discuss concerns related to a predatory offender ordinance. 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 a potential new ordinance regarding residency restrictions for registered sexual offenders who reside in the city. The ordinance idea was brought to the city council meeting Feb. 21, after a community notification meeting regarding a predatory offender moving into Hastings. Residents also presented the council with a petition signed by locals in favor of the ordinance.

The committee discussed the legal foundation of instating an ordinance, the studies and statistics from other cities who have implemented a similar ordinance, the committee members asked questions and discussed the process of creating the ordinance.

One question that arose was the effectiveness of instating an ordinance. Committee member Braucks said that some studies suggest that the ordinance would not be effective. Fluegel said that the ordinance would create a hurdle for the Department of Corrections when they help the sex offender find housing in a community.

Another topic of conversation was the approach that the city would take if they were to create an ordinance. The committee discussed that their options would include a residential restriction (creating "safety zones" where registered predatory offenders would not be allowed to live), restrictions to public areas involving children and restrictions on rental properties renting to a registered sex offender.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, a resident suggested including wording in the ordinance that would give current sex offenders in a "safety zone" 90 or 120 days to move out of the area. If something to that effect would be included, there was concern that it might challenge a person's constitutional right. The resident, who is also an attorney, offered to donate her time if an issue were to arise.

The next step for the committee is to have another meeting that would discuss the pros and cons of instating an ordinance, the distances of the "safety zones," a mapping of those distances and retroactivity. The committee would also want to allow for more time to hear public comments. The next meeting has not yet been scheduled, but once it has been it will be shared with the public through the city's website and social media.

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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