Published at sanmarcosrecord.com
In an effort to protect its most vulnerable citizens, the Kyle Police Department presented city council with an ordinance restricting the living proximity of sex offenders to children.
Chief of Police Jeff Barnett said the ordinance would regulate where certain registered sex offenders could reside and visit within city limits.
“Some registered sex offenders are choosing to live within the city limits of Kyle because we do not have an ordinance that currently regulates where they can re side within our city,” Barnett said. “This came about from our registered sex offender compliance officer, Officer Dago Pates, who has been serving at that capacity for a number of years. Through his experience, he realized that other communities were enacting ordinances similar to what we brought before you.”
After reviewing similar laws from other Central Texas cities, Pates mirrored Kyle’s new restrictions after portions of Cedar Park’s and Pflugerville’s ordinances. Pates said Kyle’s affordability and proximity to Austin and San Marcos also contributes to the city’s influx of registered sex offenders.
“Kyle is a hotbed for sex offenders to want to be in,” Pates said. “The price is right and the location is right. They’re coming in, coming out — and a lot of them have family in the area they want to stay with. So, I think this could help the kids a lot. Because as the city grows, who else are we going to be inviting into the city?”
By creating ‘Child Safety Zones,’ a child sex offender could not lawfully reside at or visit a location within 1,500 feet of any premises where children commonly gather such as parks, schools and walking trails. An offender would also be prohibited from Halloween decorations or exterior lighting on Oct. 31 to avoid inviting trick-or-treaters to their premises. Violators would be charged with a class C misdemeanor.
Although 60 of the 68 currently registered sex offenders are considered ‘child offenders’ in Kyle, the new ordinance would only apply to future residents or those moving within the city. Landlords or property owners would be encouraged to vet applicants to avoid leasing or re-leasing to child sex offenders if the property falls within the 1,500 feet parameter.
“If we were voting on this, I would pass it right now,” Councilmember Ashlee Bradshaw said. “The only thing that I would change about it is the grandfather addendum. I would say, let’s implement this and roll with it for both current and future residents.”
Mayor Travis Mitchell said although he would be in favor of the ordinance, he advocated for what he called the other side, with family members of registered sex offenders and their rights to residency.
“I’m noticing that, if implemented, it essentially eliminates sex offenders from being able to persist in the city,” Mitchell said. “There’s people who’s stories are not what you might think of in a terrible movie or something, but rather something more like what you could see someone you may know falling into. There’s been litigation about whether sex offenders have rights to live in a city, and whether a city can pass an ordinance so restrictive that they’re essentially expelled from the city, and therefore we’re violating their constitutional rights.”
City Attorney Paige Saenz said that although about 95% of residency would be off-limits to registered sex offenders of minors, if Kyle still has sufficient housing options available, the city would be protected from litigation.
Councilmember Yvonne Flores-Cale said she thinks Kyle has enough housing on the outskirts of town for certain sex offenders to be away from restricted areas.
“Unless we want a large influx of people, I think we’re going to be okay,” Flores-Cale said. “I’m pretty sure we have an extra 60 homes somewhere along the unmarked map. I think it would be a red flag if we had 2,000 people to re-home, as well, but luckily we are being proactive. It’s only 60 people, so, hopefully, it doesn’t cause a problem.”
As requested by Mitchell, Barnett said his department would look into reducing the distance restrictions from 1,500 feet to 1,000 feet and reviewing the language of the ordinance, potentially reducing limitations of where certain offenders could live within city limits.
“This is a good conversation for us to have,” Mitchell said, adding the ordinance needs to come forward. “I just don’t know if it’s right (to assume) a child would feel unsafe because three blocks down the road, there is someone who, 10 years ago, was convicted of a crime that they have paid the consequences for and (is) trying to live there peacefully. I hate the idea of telling someone they’re gonna have to get out of their house in say three months time because of this — maybe they’ve lived here for 10 years. We just don’t know if those registered sex offenders are what we should be thinking of as threats. It’s super complicated.”
A revised ordinance draft will be presented as a first reading at the next the council meeting on Feb. 16.