Gainesville commissioners vote to allow sex offenders to live closer to schools, day cares and parks

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The Gainesville City Commission passed an amendment Tuesday that allows people convicted of sexual offenses involving children under age 16 to live closer to schools, day care centers and parks, reducing the prohibited radius from 2,500 feet to 1,000 feet.

The amendment also establishes a cut-off date that was previously not recognized by the City of Gainesville, meaning people convicted of this offense before the ordinance was first adopted in 2005 no longer have this restriction on where they live. With these changes, the ordinance now matches the Florida statute.

“This is all fairly technical in changes, so I would recommend that we mirror the state statute,” Commissioner David Arreola said. “The differences are what? 1,500 feet? A year and date?”

Interim city attorney Daniel Nee said the amendment was triggered by a legal dispute between the City and an anonymous individual who was convicted of a sexual offense multiple years before the city ordinance or state statute were enacted.

This map represents the prohibited areas in Gainesville, under a 2,500-foot restriction for people convicted of sexual offenses involving children less than 16 years old. (Source: The City of Gainesville’s Department of Sustainable Development)

 

This map represents the prohibited areas in Gainesville, under a 1,000-foot restriction for people convicted of sexual offenses involving children less than 16 years old. (Source: The City of Gainesville’s Department of Sustainable Development)

Until now, the individual was restricted from living with his wife within the prohibited radius of a day care center because, without a cut-off date, the city ordinance still applied to him. And the individual argued that the lack of a cut-off date was unconstitutional because the 2005 ordinance retroactively punished him for factors he could not have considered during his case in 1997.

“They might have, for example, pled to an offense, not realizing that this restriction would come to the place later on, whereas maybe they would’ve fought it,” Nee said. “That’s the heart of the due process issue.”

Nee explained that while similar ordinances in Florida have been upheld through expert testimony relating to recidivism rates and residency proximity, a defense would be costly, resource-wise. And some cases have been struck down on the basis of what this individual is arguing. Nee also addressed the issue of the prohibited radius.

“Does it make sense to have a residency restriction that will then, in fact, isolate everyone who have committed these past crimes [and] clump them together in limited numbers of places?” Nee asked the commission at an Oct. 6 meeting. “There are considerations back and forth. I would understand that mimicking the state statute might be a reasonable middle road.”

Commissioner Reina Saco, who was absent from Tuesday’s vote, said at the October meeting that a cut-off date makes sense to her.

“As an attorney, I think that same way: That is not what that person as a defendant agreed to or the context of what was explained. That is a punishment after-the-fact,” Saco said.

But unlike her fellow commissioners, she did not support reducing the prohibited radius.

“We are allowed to enact more strict conditions than the state, and we luckily live in a community that has enough distance between our schools that I don’t think it would necessarily lead to this single pocket of folks being forced to live there,” she added.

Nee reminded Saco that the prohibition includes day care centers and parks as well. And Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said a 2,500-foot restriction could make it difficult for offenders to find a place to live, given the City’s goal to establish a park within a 10-minute walk of everyone’s house.

When the city commission came together Tuesday, there was no further discussion. The bill passed unanimously and came into immediate effect.

About Zachary Carnell

Zachary is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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