|Sex Offender Residency Rule off the Table in Ulster County
February 18, 2009
KINGSTON — Acting on the recommendation of the county attorney, Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson has pulled the plug on an effort to restrict where in the county registered sex offenders may live.
During a meeting last week, Donaldson, D-Kingston, ruled out of order a resolution to schedule a public hearing on a proposed local law to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, church or day-care center. He said a ruling in Rockland County that an almost identical law there is unconstitutional calls into question the legitimacy of Ulster's proposed law.
"When we compared what their law was against what was being proposed, it was determined that our law would likewise be declared unconstitutional under the same facts and circumstances as in Rockland County," Donaldson said.
Donaldson added that county law-enforcement and mental health officials have said such a law would be impossible to enforce and could be counterproductive because it could force sex offenders to choose not to register, making it impossible to monitor their movements.
But Legislature Minority Leader Glenn Noonan, who for the past several years has been pushing for such residency rules, blasted Donaldson's decision, saying it was done to avoid voting against a measure that probably would have great community support.
"The Democrats did not want to vote on it," said Noonan, R-Gardiner. "They believe in the 'hug-a-thug' theory of the state Assembly."
Noonan introduced the latest version of the sex offender residency law in early January after receiving complaints from people that a Level 3 sex offender had been moved to a Kerhonkson motel by the Rockland County Department of Social Services.
The offender, Christopher Palma, had been living in Rockland but was forced to move when that county adopted a law prohibiting sex offenders from living near elementary schools.
In a court decision dated Jan. 22, state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly struck down the Rockland County law, saying it "impermissibly conflicts with the state enactments." The lawsuit was brought by a sex offender who is an orthodox Jew and said he must live within walking distance of a synagogue.
Similar laws have been adopted elsewhere the state, but many of those — including laws in Albany, Washington and Rensselaer counties — now are facing court challenges.
"'Not in my back yard' residency restrictions are spreading unchecked through county, town and village ordinance books," Kelly wrote. "Even without vigorous enforcement, the ordinances interfere with parole and probation officers' efforts to find suitable housing for offenders."
Currently, New York state law prohibits Level 3 (high-risk) sex offenders and offenders whose victims were under 18 and who are on parole or probation from living or going near "any school grounds … or any other facility or institution primarily used for the care or treatment of persons under the age of 18 while one or more … are present."
According to the state Sex Offender Registry, there are 118 Level 2 and Level 3 registered sex offenders living in Ulster County.
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