February 10, 2016

West Lake Hills set to defend its registered sex offender ordinance, city council says

2-10-16 Texas:

General-law city, nonprofit organization face off over residency restrictions

Texas Voices of Reason and Justice filed a lawsuit Dec. 28 against several cities, including West Lake Hills, alleging the city’s restrictions on where registered sex offenders can reside violate the Texas Constitution, said Richard Gladden, Texas Voices of Reason and Justice attorney.

The nonprofit organization provides information and education about the state’s public sex offender registry and its impact on community safety.

West Lake Hills prohibits registered sex offenders from establishing permanent or temporary residence within 1,000 feet of a playground, school, video arcades, youth center, day care center, public swimming pool or bus stop, according to the city ordinance.

Because it is a general-law city—cities with fewer than 5,000 residents—West Lake Hills cannot pass ordinances without authorization from the Texas Legislature, Gladden said. As a general rule, Texas does not prohibit registered sex offenders from living or going near places frequented by children, he said. The city’s laws that define where registered sex offenders can live is unconstitutional, he said.

“The goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our residents, especially our children,” West Lake Hills Mayor Linda Anthony said of the ordinance.

There are areas within West Lake Hills where registered sex offenders are able to reside under the current ordinance, she said.

In November, Texas Voices for Reason and Justice sent letters to 46 Texas general-law cities, raising concerns over the legality of the municipalities’ registered sex offender residency ordinances, Gladden said. Twenty of these cities repealed their sex offender ordinances shortly after receiving the letter and Texas Voices of Reason and Justice sued 14 of the remaining cities, he said.

“Many [registered sex offenders] are no longer on probation—they’ve already paid their debt to society,” Gladden said. “Now, they and their families are having a hard time finding a place [to] live.”

During its Jan. 13 meeting, West Lake Hills City Council agreed to file documents denying the allegations in the lawsuit. ..Source.. by Kirsten Peek

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