Critics of the Iowa law that limits where convicted sex offenders may live aired their concerns during a legislative committee meeting Monday. The law forbids paroled sex offenders from living within two-thousand feet of a school or day care. Iowa County Attorneys Association executive Corwin Ritchie’s group has opposed the law all along, but he says there’s now a growing list of allies like police who see the law doing more harm than good.
"If you’re spending a lot of time chasing down where a person sleeps — not where they loiter or where they can go or where they can work, but just where they sleep — you’re wasting law enforcement resources," Ritchie says. Ritchie and others argue state law should instead restrict where convicted sex offenders may loiter, creating so-called "safe zones" in schools and day care facilities, but Ritchie concedes it’s an uphill fight.
"It’s the perception that’s out there that is our biggest opponent," Ritchie says. Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow says when the residency requirement was passed in 2002 it sounded good to him.
"I thought, ‘All right we’ll just push ’em on out. We’ll take care of this. We’ll just ban ’em from different town,’" Krukow says. But the sheriff says his deputies have become real estate agents, trying to track where sex offenders live. Sheriff Krukow says law enforcement has lost touch with some offenders who’ve failed to report their address, making the state’s sex offender registry less effective.
Senator Bob Dvorsky, a Democrat from Coralville, says it will be hard for legislators to throw out the residency requirement and not look soft on crime. "I don’t think you ought to underestimate public opinion and the people that we govern out there," Dvorsky says. "They need to have a sense of safety and security." County attorneys say to combat that "soft on crime" charge, they’re proposed other tough sanctions like keeping some sex offenders in prison longer.
Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield who is a retired state trooper, likes that approach. "The residency restriction was passed on emotion and emotion has no intelligence," Baudler says. "The way to handle sex offenders is to lock ’em up." Legislators plan to hold more hearings on the subject before taking any action.