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EDITORIAL: Suffolk baffled on where to house sex offenders

Tying itself into grotesque knots on the issue of homeless sex offenders, the Suffolk County Legislature can't seem to figure out what it wants. Tuesday it debated at length, then put off, action that would allow the county to give the offenders vouchers to stay in motels. But legislators don't like any of the other options either. So, what's next? Space stations?

Some homelessness among offenders is a function of the economy. But County Executive Steve Levy argues that lawmakers have made it worse by passing a series of restrictions on where offenders can live. These restrictions, passed by towns as well as by the county, may win political points for politicians. But offenders driven by powerful urges to prey on children seem unlikely to be deterred by imaginary circles.

State law requires the county to provide housing for homeless offenders. But how? The legislators don't want trailers in their districts. Besides, the capacity of the trailers is no longer adequate for the growing need. Levy considered buying industrial sites to house them. Legislators squawked about that, too. So the county decided to issue vouchers, as Nassau does. But lawmakers have now put off action on paying for them.

Putting small groups of offenders in a few fairly distributed locations, with supervision, seems less dangerous - and less costly - than scattering them in motels. But first, legislators will have to agree on the sites. Rocketing offenders into space isn't an option. Nor is endless, reflexive rejection. hN