Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deltona loosens residency restriction

Deltona takes steps to relax residency rule for sex offenders

By BOB KOSLOW Staff Writer

DELTONA -- Sex offenders and predators may find more legal places to live in Volusia County's largest city of more than 86,000 residents.

Elected leaders here Monday tentatively amended a city code by removing school bus stops as a measuring point from where certain convicted sexual offenders and designated predators cannot live.

"(Bus stops) change all the time, and enforcement is difficult," City Attorney George Trovato said Monday. "You have to research when an offender moved in and when a bus stop was created. (Offenders and predators) could be illegal one year and legal the next. It's just not enforceable."

State law prohibits convicted and registered sexual offenders and predators, whose victims were younger than 16 years old, from living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or playground. Deltona officials in May 2006, copying many other Florida cities and counties, extended the distance to 2,500 feet and added school bus stops to the list.

The commission unanimously approved eliminating the bus stops and scheduled a second hearing July 7.

About 99 registered sexual offenders and predators live in Deltona, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Web site.
The move was not enough for George Griffin, head of the Volusia/Flagler American Civil Liberties Union.

"The ordinance, when it was passed, created a wall around the city to the point that it might be unconstitutional," he told officials. "While the opening of more places to live is a step in the right direction, there is no proof that the residency restrictions make a city safer. It's time to relook at the entire ordinance."

Griffin suggested looking at anti-loitering laws to better control where offenders and predators hang out during the day.

"I am all for making the city livable for everyone, but we need to be very very careful," Commissioner Mike Carmolingo said. "There are too many young families out there."

Resident and registered sex offender Richardo Maldonado pleaded with the commission to eliminate its law.

"Even taking out bus stops, who is Deltona to decide to add on what the state says?" he said. "When is the harassment going to stop? I made a mistake and paid for it. Enough! Enough!"

Other changes to the city's sex offender ordinance take into account the ages of some victims and defendants -- known as Romeo and Juliet cases -- and the intent not to jail violators.

Under the changes, which must pass the second public hearing, residency restrictions would not apply to offenders and predators if the case involved consensual sexual conduct when the defendant was not more than four years older than the "victim" and the "victim" was older than 14 and younger than 17.

Registered sex offenders and predators with a clean record for at least 10 years since the initial conviction also are exempt from the city code. All state distance laws still apply.

The possibility of jail time for those found in violation of the city law was also removed. Penalties shall be a fine not to exceed $500 a day.

"It was never the intent to send them to jail, only to get them to move," Trovato said. "So, why have it if you are not going to enforce it?"
The changes to provide more places to live could make the city's law less likely to be challenged and overturned as unconstitutional, supporters said.
What they will not do is impact the city's current Circuit Court case involving three defendants charged with violating the city's distance law and refusing to move. A Circuit Court judge ordered the city to pay for the defendants' legal costs and a three-judge panel is reviewing a city appeal.

There are more than 10 additional known cases, Trovato said.

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