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Educators, officials seek more housing limits on sex offenders

Educators and others are pushing for passage of state legislation that would empower county officials to regulate where convicted offenders live.

Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) speaks at a news conference with school superintendents and other legislators on Monday in Patchogue. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

With classes across Long Island set to resume in the coming weeks, some Suffolk education leaders and elected officials are raising concerns that nearly two dozen of the highest-risk sex offenders are living close to schools.

The officials are pushing for passage of legislation that would empower county officials to regulate where sex offenders live.

The issue stems from a 2015 state...

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With classes across Long Island set to resume in the coming weeks, some Suffolk education leaders and elected officials are raising concerns that nearly two dozen of the highest-risk sex offenders are living close to schools.

The officials are pushing for passage of legislation that would empower county officials to regulate where sex offenders live.

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The issue stems from a 2015 state Court of Appeals ruling, which found that Nassau County had overstepped its authority when it passed a local law prohibiting Level 3 sex offenders — considered at the highest risk of offending again — from living within 1,000 feet of a public or private school.

The state's highest court said state law covering sex offenders supersedes any local legislation, invalidating nearly 120 municipal ordinances statewide. State law only restricts Level 3 sex offenders who are still on parole or probation from living within 1,000 feet of a school.

In recent years, Senate and Assembly Republicans have proposed legislation that would address the court's ruling by allowing county officials, such as the Nassau and Suffolk county executives, to create "Child and Victim Safety Zones" that establish "reasonable restrictions" where convicted sex offenders can reside.

A bill sponsored by Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) also would require Level 1 sex offenders — deemed the lowest risk of re-offending — to remain on the state's sex offender registry for 30 years, up from the current requirement of 20 years. The provision, however, could be dropped as part of a compromise bill, officials said. Higher-level sex offenders are required to register for life.

The legislation was passed by the State Senate in June 2017 and again in May 2018. But the measure has failed to gain support in the Assembly, due largely to a lack of support from New York City lawmakers.

"This is common sense and unfortunately common sense isn’t very common in this day and age," Michael Hynes, Patchogue-Medford schools superintendent said at a news conference on the issue Aug. 20. He was joined by leaders of the South Country, William Floyd and Sayville school districts.

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Murray, who is running for State Senate, said Assembly Democrats should return to session to pass the bill. If the measure languishes through the end of the year, until legislators return in 2019, lawmakers would have to pass it again.

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"We thinks that is absurd," Murray said. "That leaves our children vulnerable."

The legislation, officials said, is stuck in the Assembly's Corrections Committee.

A spokeswoman for that committee's chairman, Assemb. David Weprin, a Queens Democrat, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Neither did a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the administration will “review any legislation that seeks to increase public safety."

Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and The Crime Victims Center, which monitors convicted sex offenders, said city lawmakers are concerned that residency requirements would be difficult to enforce in densely populated communities. "So instead they turn a blind eye to the needs of suburban communities," she said.

The New York City Bar Association's Corrections and Community Re-entry Committee opposes the legislation.

"Should this provision pass, the housing search, particularly for Level 3 registrants returning home to New York City, would be nearly impossible," the committee wrote in March 2018. "Given New York City’s density, the existing prohibition on entering within 1,000 feet of any school already severely burdens people’s ability to find housing, to travel, and to access social services."

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Since the Court of Appeals ruling, at least 20 Level 2 or 3 sex offenders have moved within 1,000 feet of a school in neighborhoods such as Islip, Central Islip, Farmingville, Bay Shore, Brentwood and Centereach, Ahearn said.

For example, a Level 3 sex offender, convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1998, lives near an elementary school in Patchogue. Another Level 3 offender, convicted of abusing an 8-year-old girl in 1999, lives two-tenths of a mile from an elementary school in Bay Shore, records show.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said his administration supports the Assembly bill.

"I’m proud to stand with our school superintendents, school board presidents and local families in urging the State Assembly to take action that will ensure our most vulnerable population, children, remain safe," Bellone said in a statement.

A spokesman for Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said her administration is reviewing the legislation.