October 19, 2011

Lake commissioners tighten sex-offender restrictions in reaction to sex-offender 'village' proposal

10-19-2011 Florida:

TAVARES — Fear over a rumored sex-offender "village" in Sorrento led Lake County commissioners Tuesday to tighten restrictions on offenders, pushing their homes 2,500 feet from day-care centers, schools and parks.

The new ordinance, approved unanimously in the wake of an Oct. 6 public meeting that drew an estimated 500 concerned residents to Sorrento Elementary School, also forbids more than one unrelated sex offender from living in a house, a provision that may foreshadow a more stringent "cluster-buster" proposal to limit the number of sex offenders who can live in an apartment complex, RV park, residential subdivision or trailer park.

"What you don't want…is for your county to be a haven, the place" for sex offenders, said Commissioner Leslie Campione, who also urged the board to consider a law to keep sex offenders from visiting county parks.

A woman representing the Florida Action Committee, which opposes residency restrictions and labeling for many sex offenders, presented commissioners with a letter from the group's president urging them to "consider the impact and unintended consequences of a 2,500-foot residency restriction."

Citing a report by the California Sex Offender Management Board, her letter insisted that "residency restrictions are ineffective at preventing harm to children, and may indeed actually increase the risks to public safety."

Lake's new ordinance replaces a previous one that mirrored state law and prohibited registered sex offenders from living closer than 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds and other places where children gather.

Commissioners asked County Attorney Sandy Minkoff to draft the ordinance after Barbara Farris, president of SO Housing Solutions Inc., a recently incorporated company with an Apopka address, announced that she wanted to develop a neighborhood or village for sex offenders and suggested east Lake might be a suitable area because of its relatively remote location. She told the Orlando Sentinel that she has abandoned the Sorrento area because of the public outcry but added that she may try the clustering concept in other Central Florida communities, including another part of Lake.

Victoria Morris, a Sorrento mom who organized opposition to Farris' proposal, said she supports the county's new ordinance and hopes the state will draft a law preventing sex offenders from living together in large groups.

She said sex-offender clusters pose threats to children and property values.

Lake Sheriff Gary Borders, who has a special unit that tracks and regularly visits more than 400 registered sex offenders living in Lake, said a sex-offender village would be expensive, requiring more deputies to monitor clusters of residents, especially if offenders are lured from out-of-state as opponents predict.

"We don't want to become a place to go to," he said. ..Source.. by Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel

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