Legislators may vote this year to change the Iowa law restricting where paroled sex offenders may live and instead, make it illegal for sex offenders to be in places where kids congregate — in parks, schools, day care centers.
A nearly decade-old state law bars sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school, but law enforcement officials say it’s hard to police and many choose not to register their whereabouts with local authorities because of that restriction.
House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha says making schools, parks and day center centers "safe zones" that are off-limits to convicted sex offenders seems to be sensible.
"I think the 2000 foot rule has some significant challenges," Paulsen says. "…The safe zones appear in other states to be something we need to seriously look at because I think they do protect our kids."
County prosecutors as well as sheriffs and police chiefs have favored these kind of "safe zones" for a few years. Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton questions the secrecy surrounding the proposal, which was developed in private by a "working group" that included legislators and which has not yet been formally released to the public.
"We think the public should have been involved in this sooner, or at least there should have been more transparency," McKinley says. "But that said, we will give a very, very hard look at this and if it’s good for Iowa families and Iowa children, we will be supportive of that."
House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, isn’t ready to publicly discuss the details of the proposal.
"We’re not going to comment on that," Murphy said at a news conference this morning, "but there’s no question that if the legislature deals with any of those issues we’re going to be creating a law that’s stronger, tougher and safer for our communities and for our families."
If a bill on this subject emerges, Murphy plans to hold a public hearing on the proposal. "If we have a bill, there will be openness to it," Murphy told reporters. "We will have a public hearing and we will get public input."
Murphy hints the bill has been kept under wraps – and away from public scrutiny — in order to get bipartisan support for doing away with that sex offender residency restriction and replace it with a law that creates those "safe zones" in public places where kids congregate.
Click on the audio link below to listen to the news conference featuring Republican leaders Paulsen and McKinley, followed by the news conference featuring Democratic leaders Murphy, Senate President Jack Kibbie and Senate Democartic Leader Mike Gronstal.