Published January 17. 2013 4:00AM
In a victory for common sense, the Montville Town Council this week voted to repeal two ill-conceived ordinances that placed restrictions on where registered sex offenders could move about in town. Unfortunately, because of a procedural error, one of the ordinances remains. We urge the council to complete the repeal as soon as possible.
The ordinances were a solution for a problem that did not exist. It was questionable whether they increased anyone's safety. And arguably unconstitutional, they would have likely generated litigation the town could not afford.
The theory behind the ordinances was that the town could protect children and senior citizens by keeping registered sex offenders away from them. The law banned ex-offenders from going near playgrounds, parks, senior centers, bus stops, playgrounds, beaches, sports field, etc. But what problem was the council trying to address? There had been no rash of attacks by registered sex offenders on seniors or children at any of these places. As for enforcement, it was unclear how former offenders would be identified - scarlet letters perhaps?
As Andrew Schneider, executive director of the Connecticut ACLU chapter pointed out, it was an attempt by the town to effectively impose the additional punishment of banishment on all these individuals. The fact is that judges and probation officials, familiar with the details of individual cases, routinely impose orders that pedophiles stay away from places where children gather. Restrictions, tied directly to the nature of the crime, are imposed in other sexual assault cases as well. In the most serious cases, ex-offenders must wear GPS devices to track their movements.
Particular credit goes to councilors Rosetta Jones and Dana McFee. It would have been easy for them to climb aboard the bandwagon in favor of these feel-good ordinances. After all, who would not be in favor or protecting children and old people from registered sex offenders? But the pair questioned the policy from the start, recognizing that supporting it may have looked and felt good but really would not accomplish anything, except leave the town legally vulnerable.
The pair led a petition drive focused on the senior ordinance, the more outrageous of the two, collecting 537 signatures and forcing repeal of the ordinances onto the council agenda. This was not an easy or easily explained cause to fight for, but it was a fight well worth waging and winning.
Unfortunately, because the petition addressed only the senior ordinance, only that ordinance could legally be repealed at the recent meeting. Repealing the child safety zone law will require following the standard procedures, including a public hearing, before it can be legally acted on. We urge the council to act expeditiously.