At its May Council meeting, city council members of Marine on St. Croix voted to disallow registered sex offenders from moving into the community pending the development of a sex offender residency ordinance.
The need for a moratorium, or an ordinance, had not previously been discussed at a Council meeting, so community members were likely unaware of what was being voted upon, or the intent of a future ordinance.
The legislation was introduced by council member Charlie Anderson, a homicide detective for the City of St. Paul, in response to a recent incident in Stillwater. A level 3 sex offender previously convicted for possession of child pornography, moved to a residence within blocks of a middle school, a K-8 Catholic school, an ECFE facility, and three churches.
“City officials in Stillwater felt blindsided,” Anderson said. “Many people think there are regulations in place (about where sex offenders can live) at the state level, but there are not. This is decided at the local level. Stillwater didn’t have any mechanisms in place to control the situation. I would not want to see Marine in the same situation that Stillwater is in without have had a proactive conversation.”
Ninety municipalities in Minnesota and many communities across the country have adopted residency restriction ordinances. Some of those ordinances have been challenged and thrown out by the courts.
According to the Star Tribune, a class action lawsuit was filed in February against the City of Apple Valley for an ordinance that made 90 percent of its residential properties out-of-bounds to registered sex offenders returning to the community.
The moratorium places a one-year ban on residency for people convicted of a “designated sexual offense” or who are required to register as a predatory offender or designated a Level 3 sex offender (most likely to reoffend). The moratorium language listed a variety of sexual offenses against a victim under the age of 16, as well as child pornography offenses and indecent exposure.
While the moratorium gives the Marine City Council a year to develop an ordinance, Anderson hopes to have the language of an ordinance finalized in a month or two.
When asked if he was concerned about legal challenges like those in the pending Apple Valley case, Anderson said he believed their ordinance was too broad.
“If you are going to put that much (housing) off-limits, it had better be for a very small, well defined group,” he said.
The ordinance being considered for Marine would be tailored specifically to people designated as high-risk Level 3 sex offenders convicted of non-familial sexual contact with a minor, or of possession, production or distribution of child pornography.
“I am not proposing a one-size-fits-all solution,” Anderson said. “I think this is a more evidence-based approach.”
In fact, Anderson believes it has the potential to become a model ordinance that other communities may look to in future.
In addition to being tightly targeted, it is likely that the proposed ordinance will restrict a registered sex offender to a residence (owned or rented) more than 1,500 feet away from a school, preschool, daycare center, public park or church with children’s’ programming.
Those already residing in the community before the moratorium or ordinance is put in place are grandfathered in. Anderson knew of no sex offenders currently residing in the community.
Also, a person returning to the community to live with parents is banned by the moratorium but may not be by the ordinance. Anderson explained that this situation is usually handled differently.
“I think this is a very reasonable approach to safeguarding the interest of children for the public good,” Anderson said.