June 27, 2012

Palm Beach County task force hopes to ease limits on housing sex offenders

6-27-2012 Florida:

They live in cars or sleep on the streets. Most homeless shelters and halfway houses won't take them.

South Florida cities have pushed hundreds of sex offenders underground with strict housing laws in recent years, critics say, but a new Palm Beach County task force is taking steps to reverse that trend.

It plans to draft an ordinance this summer that would make it easier for sex offenders in the county to find a place to live. One idea: Reduce the distance the county now requires offenders to live from schools, parks, day care centers and school bus stops from 2,500 feet to 1,000 feet.

If county commissioners choose to pass such an ordinance, it would be the boldest change to sex offender laws in South Florida since local cities began passing stricter laws around 2005.

"I feel that it's the right thing to do," said Highland Beach Mayor Bernard Featherman, a member of the Criminal Justice Commission's sex offender reentry task force. "I've learned that nothing you make a decision about is popular."

Two county commissioners, Steven Abrams and Priscilla Taylor, said they would consider easing limits.

"I'm willing to take a look at it and weigh the pros and cons," Taylor said. "We want to make sure every individual has a place to stay. We just need to be very cautious because it affects children and adults as well."

Commissioner Paulette Burdick said she would not support the change, citing "reservations" about shrinking the buffer zone to 1,000 feet. For the remainder of this story: by By Alexia Campbell, Sun Sentinel

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