Town tables vote on sex offender residency

Babylon Town Hall, as seen on Dec. 14,

Babylon Town Hall, as seen on Dec. 14, 2011, at 200 East Sunrise Hwy. in Lindenhurst. (Credit: Carl Corry)

Concerned about a federal suit challenging Suffolk County sex offender residency restrictions, Babylon officials have shelved plans for a law that would limit where sex offenders live in town.

Town leaders held off on a vote Tuesday after a public hearing on the proposed law, which would make it unlawful for convicted Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders -- those most likely to reoffend -- to live within a quarter-mile of a school, child day care center, day camp, park or playground. Offenders would have 30 days to comply or face a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a jail term of up to 15 days.

Town officials said they were unaware of the U.S. District Court case involving Duane Moore, a sex offender who is challenging the constitutionality of Suffolk County's sex offender law, the model for the town's law. Suffolk also restricts offenders by a quarter-mile radius, with violation punishable by up to a year in jail.

A similar law in Nassau County was struck down last year when a judge ruled that it was inconsistent with state sex offender law, which prohibits violent sex offenders on parole or probation from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other child-care facility.

Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer said he learned of the federal case from Laura Ahearn, of Stony Brook-based Parents for Megan's Law. On the advice of Ahearn and Suffolk County attorney Dennis Cohen, town officials decided to indefinitely table the proposal. "Depending on what the court's decision is, it will determine how we proceed," Schaffer said.

Moore initiated the lawsuit in 2009. A Level 3 registered sex offender, he served 19 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree rape in 1982. Moore is challenging the constitutionality of the county law, and claims it is pre-empted by state law.

Ahearn, whose group lobbies for tougher sex offender restrictions, learned of the proposed law from an article in Newsday. "I understand they have good intentions and want to satisfy community concerns, but at the same time they have to look a little broader at what's happening on a county level and potentially on a state level," Ahearn said.

At Tuesday's hearing, forensic therapist Bill O'Leary, who works with both sex offenders and sex abuse victims, advised against passing the bill, saying it could make offenders' lives unstable and drive them underground. "What we're doing with residency laws is actually increasing the risk to the community," he said.

Schaffer said should the law go forward, town officials will examine information from Ahearn and O'Leary.

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