News sources are reporting on a lawsuit filed in Miami by the ACLU challenging a county ordinance that prevents convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of where children congregate. The Miami Herald has the story here, the N.Y. Times, here.
An excerpt from the Miami-Herald…
A multipronged legal battle erupted Thursday over the growing colony of sex offenders forced to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued Miami-Dade County, arguing that the state’s rule that sex offenders must live at least 1,000 feet from where children congregate supersedes the county’s stricter 2,500-foot ordinance.
Then the city of Miami prepared to sue the state for placing the offenders — whose legal addresses are under the causeway — too close to a barrier island that it considers a park.
Though no one has proposed a solution, the ACLU and the city say they simply want to clean up the shantytown that is spilling out from under the bridge, and find those living there a respectable and safe place to live. Under the 2,500-foot law, convicted sex offenders have no other place to live in the county that does not violate the rule.
The vagrants — many of them homeless felons — live in shacks in a no-man’s land that has generated national debate over the consequences of residency laws for sex offenders.
The consensus among those in power is that there is a problem but no one can agree on a solution. Reports the N.Y. Times…
John Timoney, the Miami police chief, said that on the Fourth of July, several officers used a stun gun against a man under the bridge who, in a fit of depression, began cutting himself with a knife, apparently in a suicide attempt. Chief Timoney predicted more violence.
He said he had told city, state and county officials that the men (only one or two women live there) needed to be moved to more permanent homes, even if it meant changing one or more laws. He has gotten mostly studies in return, along with politicians accusing one another of shirking responsibility.
“It’s like a hot potato,” Chief Timoney said. “Everyone is just passing it on.”
This is perhaps another example of how popular laws make bad laws. The Times picked up a great quote from a law professor who studies sex offender laws, saying how residency restrictions which have led to the current crisis “are always universally popular. The public loves it.”
And now the public is paying the price for its paranoiac love-fest.
As a side note, I have to disagree with the comment made by a Miami City commissioner, as reported in the Herald, that the governor of New York would be “impeached the next day” if he ordered all sex offenders to be placed under the Brooklyn Bridge. First, with the chaos in Albany at the moment, I doubt anyone would notice. Second, given the ineptitude of David Patterson thus far in his term as governor, he might get a standing ovation just for having done something.