January 28, 2015

San Bernardino County to pare down sex-offender ordinance

1-28-2015 California:

Registered sex offenders in San Bernardino County will be able to move more freely within their communities after the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved repealing restrictions on offender presence and movement in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The gutting of the county’s 8-year-old sex offender ordinance would fulfill the terms of a legal settlement between the county and civil rights attorney Janice Bellucci, reached in December.

The county will now push for legislation that would allow California counties and cities to impose their own, more stringent ordinances and not be bound solely by state law. It would essentially allow the county to reinstate the provisions of the ordinance it has been forced to repeal due to an appellate court ruling last year.

“We know best how to make sure the most vulnerable in our community are protected,” Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Provisions of the county ordinance that prohibit registered sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of a day-care center or park and within a half mile of a school will remain intact, as well as a provision prohibiting offenders from participating in Halloween activities. But provisions establishing “predator-free zones” including video arcades, public libraries, parks, swimming pools and museums will be purged.

Bellucci sued the county in federal court on Oct. 15, alleging its ordinance was unconstitutional. It was one of dozens of similar lawsuits she filed against cities and counties statewide following a decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside in January 2014, which found that sex offender ordinances in Orange County and the city of Irvine cannot impose restrictions more stringent than state law.

In the two unrelated Orange County cases, two registered sex offenders sued after they were arrested for visiting public parks, a violation of city and county ordinances that prohibited them from visiting public parks, where children are frequently present.

Bellucci, president of the nonprofit California Reform Sex Offender Laws, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

State law prohibits registered sex offenders on parole from living within 2,000 feet of a public school or park, and only those whose victims were under the age of 14 are prohibited from visiting public parks unless they have express permission from their parole agent.

In April, the state Supreme Court declined a petition by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to review the appellate court decision in the Orange County cases, leaving the lower appellate court ruling intact and establishing a new legal precedent that has prompted the many municipalities sued by Bellucci to either revise or repeal their sex offender ordinances.

“Our only other choice was to spend money on a lawsuit the state court has already decided on,” Ramos said in a follow-up statement.

Yucaipa resident Steven Williams addressed the board on the matter. Though he is not a registered sex offender, Williams said his probation officer determined in October he was in violation of his probation because he had his porch lights on on Halloween night. He was subsequently arrested and spent 63 days in jail.

Williams, 65, was initially charged in 2008 with four felony counts of child molestation, sending sexually explicit content to a minor, lewd and lascivious acts with a child and child abuse. Under a plea bargain, he pleaded no contest to the child abuse charge in 2011. He was given a laundry list of probation terms to comply with, but registering as a sex offender was not one of them.

“I would ask the board to carefully consider writing their revisions and to conduct follow-up investigations confirming county ordinances are being legally and lawfully administered by the proper authorities,” Williams said.

The revised ordinance will return to the board on Feb. 10 for adoption. It will take effect 30 days thereafter. It is up to the Sheriff’s Department to decide if it will continue enforcing the ordinance in its original form until the revised one takes effect, county spokesman David Wert said.

“Until then, it is the law of the county, and no one can change that,” Wert said. ..Source.. by Joe Nelson

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