Morning Sentinel
Change to limits affects
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BY LARRY GRARD
Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 08/24/2009

BY LARRY GRARD

Staff Writer

Two area towns are considering changing their ordinances that determine how close a sex offender can live to a school or other designated area where children might be.

A bill recently passed in the state Legislature requires cities and towns with such ordinances to reduce those restrictions. The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, becomes law on Sept. 12.

Oakland and Madison have their own laws, but will need to change them to comply with the new state law.

Accordingly, the Oakland Town Council could change its law as early as Aug. 26. Madison also has an ordinance stipulating how close sex offenders can live to schools and other designated areas.

Madison is yet to consider the issue.

The new law reduces from 1,500 feet to 750 feet the radius a sex offender can live from a school, day-care center, playground or any other designated area. Also, the new state law only restricts people who have been convicted of sex offenses against victims 14 years old and younger.

The new state law, said Michael Starn, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, will provide uniformity from one municipality to another.

"And there was the potential for communities stepping beyond what a court might say was reasonable," Starn said.

Starn emphasized that only communities with binding ordinances will be impacted by the legislation. Those without sex-offender laws will continue to have no say as to where sex offenders live, he added.

Peter Nielsen, town manager in Oakland, has no qualms about his town adapting to the new legislation.

"We're sworn to uphold the law," Nielsen said. "We don't want to be outside the state law."

The Madison ordinance is more strict than Oakland's -- convicted sex offenders cannot live within 2,500 feet of designated locations. Town Manager Norman Dean, who said he has not yet received any notification of the change from the state, said the town might have gone a little further than necessary.

By a 59-8 vote at a special town meeting, residents enacted the rule in March 2007.

"I think we can relax it a little without worry from parents," Dean said.

Dean added that he expects state notification soon.

Madison police have responded to at least one violation of the town's ordinance, Dean said.

"Someone was renting property close to a playground," he said. "Police gave them a 30-day notice to leave."

Convicted sex offenders living in Madison prior to the ordinance are "grandfathered in," and are not affected by it, Dean said.

Oakland's law subjects offenders to court action, if they have not responded to a 30-day written notice. The town has the option of imposing fines for each day that violations continue, following the notice.

Larry Grard -- 861-9239

lgrard@centralmaine.com

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