Hastings council adopts sexual offender ordinance

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The Hastings City Council voted 5-1 to adopt an ordinance involving residential restrictions for sexual offenders and sexual predators at the June 19 council meeting.

The ordinance will prohibit sexual offenders and sexual predators from living within 750 feet of any school, licensed child care center or public park in the city limits.

LINK: Read the City Council agenda item here

Prior to the roll call vote, a public hearing was held in which several residents commented on the proposed ordinance.

One woman testified as a victim of a sexual predator. She said that a juvenile offender lived next door to her and broke into her home. While she was lucky enough to run out of the house and get away, she begged the council to vote in favor of a larger buffer zone.

Another woman, who said she had no intentions of speaking at the meeting, became emotional after realizing she lived in the white zone, the area sexual offenders are allowed to live in.

A few community members asked that the council raise the proposed buffer zone to 1,500 feet and include churches in restricted zones.

Michele Murphy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who is not a Hastings resident, also spoke during the public hearing. Murphy encouraged both the community and council members to think about the need for an ordinance. She stated that offenders with stability are more likely to succeed in a community. When they have access to resources that they need, such as transportation, employment, housing, and family, they are more likely to control their behavior.

"The idea of forcing registrants into areas that are out of sight, out of mind is the definition of false sense of security," Murphy said.

By moving them into secluded areas, it could actually increase the likelihood of repeating an offense because most of the time they are able to exist under the radar. Murphy also said that most of the time, offenders go somewhere else to commit an offense.

A man who lives near Three Rivers said that there are two playgrounds located in an area where sexual offenders and sexual predators would be allowed to live based on the ordinance mapping. Before the council voted, council member Tina Folch asked that the area be looked at to make sure they are not missing any areas that should be restricted. After checking the area, city officials said that the way the ordinance reads, it would provide a restricted zone around public parks and the playgrounds in the area of Three Rivers are not public.

Another resident of the city said that he understands that the ordinance is not necessarily going to keep the community safe, but something needs to be done.

"It's going to keep Hastings from being a destination zone," he said.

Council member Lori Braucks voted against the ordinance.

Braucks, who is the public safety committee chair, said there is no evidence the ordinance would create a safer city. She said that she is empathetic toward people who have faced something of this nature; however, her decision was based on logic and consistent with facts.

Braucks also said that the ordinance seems to sacrifice some neighborhoods at the expense of others. By creating an ordinance that prohibits sexual offenders from living in about 90 percent of the city, it leaves small areas of availability for housing.

"It's unfortunate that we have to sacrifice some neighborhoods for others," Braucks said.

Background

Discussion of an ordinance started after the community was notified in February of a Level 3 sex offender moving into the city. A petition to create a city ordinance restricting where sexual offenders can live within city limits was created and submitted to the council.

The council's public safety committee — Braucks, Folch and Lisa Leifeld — looked at potential ordinances that would fit Hastings. Two meetings were held to discuss a proposed ordinance that they would recommend to the full council.

The committee looked at residency restrictions ranging from 750-2,000 feet from designated areas within city limits that would prohibit sex offenders from living in that area. The committee also discussed prohibiting activities for the designated offenders and prohibiting rental properties from renting to offenders within the designated zones.

At the March 20 committee meeting, the committee determined that a 2,000-foot buffer would be too large because it would cover nearly the entire city. Sex offenders have the right to choose where they live, so it would be unconstitutional to place a ban on the entire city. From a legal standpoint, a recommendation of a 750-foot buffer was recommended around schools, licensed child care centers and parks. Many of the churches in the city were already covered by the buffer zone because they have child care centers in them.

During the public comment portion of one of committee meetings, a resident suggested including wording that would give sex offenders who are currently living in restricted areas to move out of the area. However, the committee showed concern that wording like that would challenge a person's constitutional rights.

According to a city document, the adopted ordinance will go into effect July 6 following publication of the ordinance in the Hastings Star Gazette.