2008-02-18: Union Leader: Sex offender residency to be discussed

By Scott Brooks, New Hampshire Union Leader (original article)

MANCHESTER — City officials are girding for yet another debate over a proposal to ban registered sex offenders from living near schools, parks and other places in Manchester.

The measure is expected to go before the Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic tomorrow afternoon. Its lead proponent, former alderman Leo Pepino, said he plans to answer critics who dismiss the proposal as nothing more than “feel good legislation.”

“I mean, come on,” Pepino said. “Of course it’s ‘feel good’ legislation. It’s for the kids.”

Opponents have argued the proposal is overbroad and would drive offenders “underground.” At least one police official, Deputy Chief Marc Lussier, has argued against the measure.

The committee meets at 5 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers. Alderman Bill Shea, committee chairman, has not taken a side in the debate.

“I really still have an open mind,” he said yesterday.

A draft ordinance prepared last year would have banned registered sex offenders from living near schools, day-care centers, parks, playgrounds and libraries. Some aldermen suggested the radius should be set at 500 feet. One proposal floated last year would have set the radius at twice that distance — which, for sex offenders, would effectively make much of the city off limits.

Pepino has said the ordinance should only apply to offenders whose victims were younger than 18.

The proposed restrictions met with some resistance from committee members in December. Since then, however, circumstances have changed.

The committee now has three new members, all freshmen who were not part of the debate last year. They represent a majority of the five-member committee, whose only holdovers are Shea and Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil.

O’Neil opposed the measure last year.

A local group that has tried to block residency restrictions in both Manchester and Nashua has urged city residents who oppose the measure to attend tomorrow’s meeting. The group, known as Citizens United to Reevaluate Sex Offender Registries, or CURSOR, said on its Web site, “We think this bill is finally on its last legs.”

CURSOR argues residency restrictions are ineffective, and sometimes counterproductive. Members say the restrictions often drive sex offenders into homelessness, where they cannot be tracked at all.

At least five New Hampshire communities have approved residency restrictions for sex offenders in recent years. A similar proposal is currently being debated in Derry.

Aldermen in Nashua recently voted in favor of restricting where some sex offenders can live, but the outgoing mayor vetoed the measure just before leaving office.