Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Since when did sex offenders become so popular? Consider some developments over the past couple of weeks in state legislatures:
* On a 32-8 vote, the Kansas Senate approved the extension of a law that prevents local governments from restricting where sex offenders live. The House seems likely to go further and make the law permanent.
* Utah lawmakers killed a proposal to prevent sex offenders from living within 500 feet of schools, parks, pools and playgrounds.
* A similar bill died in a Colorado House committee.
* Legislators in Iowa are considering repealing their state's 2,000-foot buffer zone around schools and daycare centers, which was put in place just two years ago. At least ten county boards have come out in favor of the repeal.
In truth, legislators dislike sex offenders as much as they ever have. They're showing it in a variety of other ways, from tougher sentencing laws to expanded post-release monitoring to Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's push to authorize the death penalty for child molesters. However, this year seems likely to represent a turning point against state-level residency restrictions.
There's little secret as to why, from a policy perspective, legislators would not want to regulate where sex offenders can live. As a panel in Kansas found, the restrictions don't reduce recidivism. Rather, they prompt offenders to move without reporting it, making it tougher for law enforcement to keep track of them.
But, from a political perspective, is it possible to vote in a way that an opponent could portray as favoring sex offenders and not have it come back to haunt you at the next election? These lawmakers seem intent on finding out, which makes them courageous, foolish, or both.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.