RULING ON SEX OFFENDER EYED (Nassau and Suffolk concerned by Rockland judge’s decision that localities can’t restrict where ex-convicts live)

Newsday/Erik German

A judge's decision overturning a Rockland County law restricting where sex offenders livecould affect dozens of similar laws statewide, including many on Long Island, where municipalitieshave rushed to enact tough residency legislation over the last few years.  In a decisionFriday, State Supreme court Justice William Kelly said local residency rules are superseded by NewYork State law, which specifically empowers local probation officers to decide where to place sexoffenders in communities.  While the Rockland court holds no sway over other counties, legalexperts said the ruling's impact could spread if the matter if upheld in higher court, or if judgesin other jurisdictions adopt Kelly's reasoning.  County attorneys for Nassau and Suffolk saidthey are reviewing the Rockland decision, but said long Island's residency laws will continue to beenforced as written.  Rockland's residency law was similar to those in Nassau and Suffolk,which prohibit registered sex offenders from living near schools or parks.  The buffer inNassau is 1,000 feet from a school, the same as Rockland, and 500 feet from a park; in Suffolk thedistance is a quarter-mile, about 1,300 feet for both schools and parks.  The state Divisionof Criminal Justice Services commissioner, Denise O'Donnell, has no official position on theRockland ruling but does have reservations about the 98 residency restriction laws in effectstate-wide because she's not convinced they're always effective and they can force offendersunderground.  Advocates for cracking down on sex offenders, such as Laura Ahearn of Parentsfor Megan's Law, say they have no such reservations.  Residency restriction laws are notdesigned to 'banish' registered sex offenders from communities, but to protect vulnerablepopulations from victimization, Ahearn said.  The state mandates lifetime registration, butthe financial burden of life-time supervision often falls upon the community and localgovernments.
(New York)