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Key Kansas lawmaker: Proposal on sex offenders 'a bad deal'

The Associated Press, November 16, 2006 

Proposals for keeping sex offenders from living close to schools or day-care centers may appear attractive politically, but they won't protect children, a key legislator said Thursday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil's assessment came a day after Iowa officials warned Kansas legislators against passing such restrictions, saying they actually put communities at greater risk.

Vratil, R-Leawood, and other members of a committee studying judiciary issues this summer and fall had a hearing Wednesday on whether the state should prevent sex offenders from living within a certain distance -- such as 1,000 feet or 1,500 feet -- of schools
and day-care centers. The study committee took no action.

The idea enjoyed some support early during the Legislature's 2006 session, but backing waned amid questions about whether it would have unintended consequences. Legislators eventually told cities and
counties they couldn't impose such restrictions and decided to study the topic.

But with Vratil's opposition and negative reports from Iowa and other states, such proposals have less of a chance of passing next year.

"It sounds good on the surface, and that's why it's politically attractive, but when you really determine what the facts are and the experiences the other states have had, it's a bad deal," Vratil said Thursday during an interview.

Iowa officials told Kansas legislators that a 2005 law in their state had such consequences. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials there are working to get the Iowa statute repealed.

"The bottom line is, it doesn't protect children," said Pamela Dettmann, a senior assistant county attorney from Burlington, Iowa.

Several Nebraska cities have adopted ordinances similar to Iowa's law.

Supporters of such proposals contend sex offenders who are released from prison should be kept a safe distance away from places where children congregate.

But Iowa officials told the committee that their state's law forced sex offenders to live in remote areas where it is difficult for law enforcement and parole officials to keep track of them.

Also, they said, the number of sex offenders who are unaccounted for has doubled since the law went into effect last year.

In addition, some communities now have clusters of offenders living in motels or other places outside the residency restriction.

Dettmann also said that the law misdirects public attention toward offenders who are strangers to their child victims, when most sex crimes against children are committed by a relative or acquaintance.

The Iowa officials urged Kansas legislators to direct their efforts to treatment of sex offenders and educational programs for young children instead of residency restrictions.

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