August 17, 2011

Township repeals sex offender residency ordinance

8-17-2011 Pennsylvania:

Doylestown Township supervisors on Tuesday night voted unanimously to repeal the ordinance restricting where registered sex offenders can live.

The decision came at the recommendation of Jeffrey P. Garton, the township solicitor. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in May that an Allegheny County ordinance barring sex offenders from living in certain areas was invalid, Garton told the board that he wanted to protect Doylestown Township from any civil rights related lawsuits.

There was no discussion among the board and no public comment after the vote from the handful of people who attended the meeting.

Garton said after the meeting the decision to get rid of Ordinance 327 was strictly precautionary and not in response to any particular situation.

Garton said he did not know of any other surrounding municipalities that have voted to do the same.

Doylestown Township police Chief Stephen White was on hand and said he wasn’t worried about the ordinance being killed because Megan’s Law added more protections about three years ago, including pictures and addresses of offenders.

Doylestown Township has had a sex offender residency restriction in place since 2005. The ordinance prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of playgrounds, parks, schools or other facilities related to children, according to township Manager Stephanie J. Mason.

Township police have never arrested or cited anyone for violation of the ordinance.

According to Megan’s Law website, Doylestown Township has 10 registered sex offenders not residing in Bucks County Prison. Six of those actually live in the township and four are listed only as being employed in Doylestown.

In the Allegheny County ruling, Chief Justice Ronald Castille said that ordinance was pre-empted by state laws that balance public safety and the goal of rehabilitation for sex offenders.

The prohibition against registered offenders living within 2,500 feet of schools, child-care facilities, community centers, public parks or recreational facilities would isolate many in what would amount to “localized penal colonies” distant from families and old neighborhoods, Castille wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Castille also wrote: “The county’s legislative effort in this instance undermines the General Assembly’s policies of rehabilitation, reintegration, and diversion from prison of appropriate offenders and significantly interferes with the operation of the sentencing and parole codes.”

Allegheny County passed its ordinance in 2007. A federal judge struck it down in 2009 and the county appealed. In a twist that lawyers described as unusual, a panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia sought the state court’s input on whether state law pre-empted the county ordinance.

Nearly 11,000 sex offenders are registered with the state police under Pennsylvania Megan’s Law.

In separate news, it was announced a new American flag-wrapped DART bus will be transporting people for $1 a ride around the township.

It was announced in July that the troubled county program will run through the end of this year — and possibly longer — with support from the state and Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, who helped secure $180,000.

Supervisors Chairwoman Barbara N. Lyons said the hope is that the program that typically caters to the elderly will be utilized more by younger people, including Delaware Valley College students.

“The more people who ride the bus, the more it will show it is a success,” Lyons said. ..Source.. by Rich Pietras

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