Lake Geneva aldermen are considering reducing by half the distance that convicted sex offenders must live away from schools, parks and other places frequented by children.
The city currently prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of such “child safety zones.”
But the Lake Geneva City Council on June 10 directed the city attorney to draft an updated ordinance that would reduce the residency buffer for sex offenders to 1,000 feet.
The action came after the city attorney cautioned aldermen that their 2,000-foot restriction was too excessive and could be successfully challenged in court.
Alderman Tim Dunn was the only council member to vote against relaxing the rule.
Dunn said the city should not take such action until it is challenged in court.
“It sounds like we’re flopping around like chickens being attacked by a weasel or something,” he said. “I don’t see why we need to change our ordinance until somebody sues us and until we lose and exhaust all the appeals.”
The council still must formally approve the new ordinance to be prepared by the city attorney.
City Attorney Dan Draper has said the city’s ordinance is too restrictive, because it makes it almost impossible for a convicted sex offender to move into Lake Geneva.
Draper cited a court case involving the village of Pleasant Prairie, in which the village’s 3,000-foot restriction was found to be unconstitutional. The village later reduced its barrier to 1,500 feet, but a judge still found the village’s ordinance to be too restrictive.
Since the Pleasant Prairie ruling, several Wisconsin communities have reduced their sex offender residency restrictions.
“Our safety ordinance is illegal,” Draper told aldermen. “It’s unenforceable in its present effect. Essentially, you’re preventing anybody who is a sex offender from living in the city.”
Draper had proposed reducing the buffer more — to 750 feet — but the council settled on 1,000 feet.
In addition to schools and parks, the ordinance is designed to keep convicted sex offenders away from churches, daycare centers, playgrounds and other places where children gather.
Alderwoman Cindy Flower agreed that the city should change its ordinance, noting that 2,000 feet means no homes are available in the city for sex offenders.
“As long as we’re providing something for them,” Flower said, “we’re abiding by the law.”
Draper said defending the current ordinance in court would be expensive for the city.
“If you want to have that lawsuit,” he said, “I think you should consider how much you want to spend.”