Over a dozen county sheriffs from around the state were at the capitol in Des Moines last night to publicly lobby legislators to change Iowa’s sex offender laws. Most of the sheriffs argue the law which forbids all paroled sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or day care center is hard to enforce.
The sheriffs say it would make sense to forbid those convicted of a sex crime against a child from entering places where kids congregate — places like parks and libraries as well as schools and day care centers.
Appanoose County Sheriff Gary Anderson is the current president of the Iowa State Association of Counties. "I have the Honey Creek Destination Waterpark in my county. I have bike trails. I have thousands of miles of waterfront," Anderson said. "Currently, right now, when I have a parent come to me and say, ‘There’s a gentleman on the beach, watching my children.’…When I run that person and find out he’s a sex offender, there’s nothing that I can do."
Marshall County Sheriff Ted Kamatchus still supports the 2000-foot rule as a means of keeping "pedophiles and perverts" away from schools and day cares, but he urges legislators to create those "safe zones" in schools and parks where sex offenders may not loiter.
"Let’s get serious here," Kamatchus said. "…Currently law enforcement does not have the tools available that allows us to go ahaed and deal with that offender who’s sitting in the parking lot of a day care, of a school, of a playground."
A couple of critics of the changes spoke as well. Marty Ryan, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, criticized the secretive process used to develop the bill.
"This hearing is presented as a time for the public to comment on the bills," Ryan said. "…This public hearing is both dishonest and disrespectuful. How is the public supposed to comment on an issue in which it has no details?"
The bill was crafted by a secret "working group" of legislators and, according to Ryan, the latest version of the proposal was not available to the public in written form when the hearing began.
"Meeting behind closed doors to craft a major piece of legislation will not gain praise or admiration from civil libertarians, no matter what the result, no matter whether it’s an improvement or not," Ryan said.
The working group held its first public meeting last night, after the public hearing.