Senate nixes new sex offender restrictions

Posted April 07, 2011, at 12:58 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state Senate on Thursday rejected a bill that would have allowed rural communities to enact local ordinances prohibiting convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school.

Under current law, municipalities can establish a 750-foot residency exclusion zone around public or private schools for convicted sex offenders whose victims were under age 14.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale, would have allowed municipalities that do not have a police chief to prohibit sex offenders who targeted children from living within 2,500 feet of a school. The bill, LD 8, would also have allowed county commissioners to establish a 2,500-foot exclusion zone in unorganized territories. The expanded setback requirement could not have been applied retroactively, however.

The bill died on a 19-16 vote in the Senate on Thursday after emotional debate.

Courtney and other supporters claimed the measure would enhance child protections in more rural areas where there are fewer police to keep tabs on sex offenders.

“I will continue to view this as another deterrent,” said Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden. “We have not yet as a society found enough deterrents to make this stop happening.”

But critics pointed out that law enforcement officials, prosecutors and experts in the field of sex offender law all testified against the measure in committee. They said the existing 750-foot exclusion zone is effective.

The bill’s opponents also said that increasing that setback to 2,500 feet would defeat the purpose by forcing sex offenders to move into even more rural areas, thereby making them more difficult to monitor and placing them farther away from treatment programs.

“This really doesn’t help, although it is well-intentioned,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. “We do have a law that if you are convicted, you can’t hang out in these places.”

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers voted to reject the bill. The measure faces additional votes in the Legislature.

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