The Iowa County Attorney’s Association is asking legislators to get rid of the state law that forbids sex offenders from living within two-thousand feet of a school or day care. Dubuque County Attorney Fred McCaw says police and prosecutors are having problems enforcing the law and at least five percent of the people who’re on Iowa’s sex offender registry have failed to report their address to authorities, probably because they are violating the residency restriction.
“In general, we find the restriction to actually be counterproductive, to cause more problems than it will ever solve and not to provide the amount of protection that I’m sure it’s original supporters had hoped,” McCaw says. County Attorneys are asking legislators to pass a new law instead that would forbid sex offenders from going into or hanging out in places frequented by kids — schools, parks and the like. “We don’t want to simply say that this (law) on residency should be scrapped without providing something of a similar nature that we think would be more effective,” McCaw says.
Other states have similar laws that restrict where sex offenders may go rather than where they are permitted to live. Governor Tom Vilsack says if both political parties agree not to make it a campaign issue, it may be possible to get rid of Iowa’s sex offender residency restrictions. “I think it is if we can come up with a better alternative,” Vilsack says. “The county attorneys believe that what they’re proposing actually will provide for greater safety and security for children and if that’s true, then I think legislators ought to and I think they will probably give serious consideration to it.” But lawmakers aren’t ready to jump on the bandwagon.
House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, doesn’t expect the legislature get rid of the residency rule. “No one ever said that this was the end all, be all, but I do hear from a lot of parents (who) still support the 2,000 foot rule,” Rants says. “Look, we had (a sex offender) move into my neighborhood last year and there wasn’t a parent in my neighborhood who didn’t know where that person lived and everybody had figured out how many kids had to walk by that house on their way to school.”
Senate Co-Leader Michael Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, said last fall that the legislature would not undo the living restriction for sex offenders, and he’s waiting for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s review of all issues relating to sex offenders. “I’m going to wait until they go through that process before I make any judgments,” Gronstal says. McCaw, the leader of the County Attorney’s Association, says the “anti-sex offender/pro-child” move would be to establish forbidden zones where kids congregate, and sex offenders aren’t allowed. “What we hope to do is to provide enough information about how this is actually working (in other states) so that legislators will see that the position in favor of protecting children is not the same as supporting the continuation of this (residency) law,” McCaw says.