Bell Gardens Repeals Section of Sex Offender Law
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Faced with the threat of lawsuits, the Bell Gardens City Council Monday voted to repeal an ordinance restricting the movement of registered sex offenders in the southeast city.
The council’s decision comes following recent court rulings striking down local sex offender laws that exceed state regulations.
In 2009, Bell Gardens adopted an ordinance that bans registered sex offenders from being within 300 feet of parks and other locations where children gather.
“We’re not doing it because we want to do it, we’re doing it because we’re forced to do it by state law,” Mayor Daniel Crespo said about the reluctance to vote to repeal a section of the city’s sex offender law.
According to Assistant City Attorney John Lam, Bell Gardens has been placed on a watch list of potential lawsuit targets.
The council also passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to come up with legislation to allow cities like Bell Gardens to adopt more stringent laws regulating where sex offenders can travel in their city.
Current state sex offender laws, known to most as Megan’s Law, requires a sex offender to register with local law enforcement when moving into a city. State law also limits with whom an offender can live, where they can work and the locations they can enter.
Like many cities, Bell Garden took the state law a step further, prohibiting any person required to register as a sex offender from being within 300-feet of areas where children are regularly found, such as parks, recreational facilities and schools, regardless if the person was on parole, probation or had permission from their parole agent, which state law allows.
Lam warned the council that recent court decisions in the cases of People v. Nguyen and People v. Godinez had made the city’s ordinance unenforceable. According to the city attorney, the court struck down local “presence restrictions” and a written analysis presented to the council said the decisions likely also invalidate ordinances regulating a sex offender’s daily life because they exceed state law.
In April, the state Supreme Court declined to review the lower court decisions and a group of individuals has been filing lawsuits against cities with such restrictions ever since, according to Lam,
“What you see is cities getting into litigation only to see them repeal [their laws],” he told the council.
“This attorney realized there’s a market to bring these lawsuits against cities and get attorney fees.”
Lam recommended the city repeal the portion of its sex offender ordinance that goes beyond state regulations.
“You’re doing this reluctantly, because of the court decision,” he told the council. “But we’re asking the state to give us back some of this authority that the court took away.”
“None of the council wants to do this,” Crespo told his fellow council members who appeared hesitant to make the change, but in the end voted unanimously to repeal the potentially litigious portion of the city’s sex offender ordinance.
A second reading of the ordinance change is required before it can take effect, and has been scheduled for the next council meeting. The resolution asking state officials to enact laws granting municipalities the power to regulate the presence of sex offenders within their borders, will also be heard.Print This Post
July 31, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.