Saturday, January 12, 2008

New bill would ban worst sex offenders from Ohio schools

Legislation introduced by Ohio Rep. Jennifer Garrison, D-Marietta, this week would ban the most serious sex offenders from schools, a move local residents say they wish would have happened years ago.

“I’m surprised this hasn’t already been the law,” said Bill Roberts, 42, of Marietta. “Why would we ever want sex offenders near our schools?”

The bill would bar Tier III sex offenders who had victimized someone 15 or younger from schools, preschools and day care facilities in the state.

“It’s important for Ohio law to represent policies that protect our children from those who wish to do them harm, and this legislation will work to accomplish that goal,” Garrison said in a recent news release. “This bill will protect Ohio’s children when their parents send them off to what is supposed to be a safe haven: Their school.”

There are about 14,000 Tier III offenders in Ohio who would be affected by the bill.

If the bill passes, those found on school premises would face a fifth-degree felony charge, with a sentence of six to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Juvenile sex offenders would be exempt from the ban.

A dozen other states have already enacted similar legislation, although there has been some argument against banning the offenders from public places, like schools and especially parks, as some municipalities have done.

A sex offender in Lafayette, Ind., was one of several to challenge a ban that kept him from a park in the community where children frequently played.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ultimately upheld the ban, after considering the argument of whether the ban was a punishment or a civil regulatory measure to protect the public.

Parent Sarah Bays, 31, of Belpre, said she has no problem with the proposed bill, now awaiting assignment to a House committee for hearings.

“I think protection is the most important thing to think about,” she said. “I don’t think it would be a violation of anyone’s rights, any more so than any law that protects people. If you break the law, you may end up having to give up some things.”

Bays said she’s never really worried about sex offenders being at the schools.

“These days, you hear so much about other school violence that you worry about that,” she said. “But as far as sex offenders, I feel like my children are safe from that at school. They’re never alone; there are always teachers watching them.”

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