Elkhorn weighs rule on sex offenders

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Katherine Krueger
Tuesday, August 6, 2013

ELKHORN--Elkhorn officials who have been working for more than a year to write residency restrictions for sex offenders said the proposal needs more work before it could be put to a vote.

The draft ordinance, which the city council sent back to a committee Monday, would create “child safety zones” to prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of facilities for children, including schools, daycare centers and public parks. It would allow the city to press charges in Walworth County Court if an offender violates the rules.

There would be exceptions to the restrictions. Registered sex offenders could live within a safety zone if they lived within the zone before conviction because the city cannot strip them of their ownership rights, City Administrator Sam Tapson said.

The ordinance would be closely modeled on an ordinance in Franklin, a city in Milwaukee County. The Franklin ordinance has been challenged and upheld in nine court cases, he said.

For Tapson and Alderman Brian Olsen, who first started talks about regulating sex offenders more than a year ago, it makes sense to model Elkhorn's rules after an ordinance that has survived legal scrutiny.

“If the language works and the courts have upheld it, why try to build a better mousetrap?” Tapson said.

Olsen began researching the issue when constituents told him a deal to sell their house fell through when the a buyer learned about the proximity of sex offenders.

Other residents questioned what they see as a “constant flow” of sex offenders into Elkhorn, he said. State statutes mandate that offenders be released into the county where they were convicted.

“It turned out we have a lot of transients coming through as the county seat, (with) most released into our neighborhoods,” Olsen said. “It goes hand in hand with having the county jail.”

Although it remains to seen whether Elkhorn has a disproportionate number of offenders compared to the rest of the county, Olsen said concern from residents is reason enough to research an ordinance.

Key details in the proposal, including the 2,500-foot safety zone distance, still could be changed by committees before the council again takes up the ordinance.

Representatives from the state Department of Corrections raised concerns the residency restrictions would be too limiting, Olsen said.

Officials also are considering creating a board to handle appeals and writing a tiered system to relax the rules depending on the circumstances of crimes.

The effect an Elkhorn ordinance might have on surrounding communities is unclear, he said.

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