Council wants clarity before signing sex offender ordinance similar to Jessica’s law | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Council wants clarity before signing sex offender ordinance similar to Jessica’s law

Susan Wood

Tearful testimony and careful consideration brought the South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday to reconsider passing a widespread sex offender ordinance that would give local officers more enforcement teeth but some citizens more restrictions that some argue would affect family time.

The item was continued on a unanimous vote until July 17.

The council asked its police and legal departments to come up with an ordinance that would piggyback off Jessica’s Law, a state initiative passed by voters in November that establishes a zone in which registered sex offenders are prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school.

The draft of the city ordinance shrunk the distance to 300 feet but expanded the facilities to outlawing registered sex offenders from anywhere children congregate, including the library, video arcade, public swimming pools, skateparks and day care centers.

“It mirrors Jessica’s Law in who (it pertains to) – those required to register,” City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo said.

The problem arises for some with the way Penal Code 290 is written to mandate registration as a life sentence for those cited with misdemeanors and felonies. Under a judge’s discretion, someone arrested for urinating in public or another type of lewd act would fall into the category.

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And what if those found guilty of lesser crimes have children? This became the question of Tuesday’s council testimony.

“I, too, want to protect our children (in society). But when they’re not allowed to go to a park (with theirs), that harms our children,” South Shore resident Rika Rich told the council in tears. Rich has a registrant in the family and her neighborhood.

But to Rich, her reasons become more far-reaching to be tolerant of, say, those people who wouldn’t hurt children and want to spend quality time with their own.

“These people are shamed,” she later explained to the Tahoe Daily Tribune of the neighbor’s children.

Councilman Jerry Birdwell, a former judge, suggested a re-write of the local law for one reason: He wants a distinction between misdemeanors and felony offenses.

The consequences the law would have on local families was something Councilman Mike Weber pondered with: “How do we define sexual predator?”

DiCamillo and Police Chief Terry Daniels said they could return with a set of new provisions including exemptions for registrants charged with misdemeanors, the extent of crime and the reason for the registrant’s appearance at children-oriented functions.

“This is a troubling label for a lifetime when someone has a misdemeanor,” Councilman Bill Crawford emphasized.

But Mayor Kathay Lovell stressed she’d like stricter consideration of the law when it comes to crimes involving children.

Jessica’s Law was challenged in court within the first week of passing.

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