Clarkstown considers restrictions on sex offenders; law mandating 1,000 buffer between residences and schools in the works

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NEW CITY – A local law which would set more stringent requirements on sex offender residency will be presented before Clarkstown’s Town Board if similar efforts fail on the state level, according to Town Supervisor Alex Gromack.

Gromack announced on Tuesday that he had directed the Town Attorney’s office to draft a local law which would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools or daycare centers. The Town Attorney’s office has also been directed to explore the legal viability of further restrictions such as ankle bracelets to ensure compliance with the law.

“While I understand that there have been legal challenges to such laws in the past, there are laws that have passed constitutional muster, and that’s what I hope to achieve here,” Gromack stated in a press release.

In speaking of such challenges, Gromack was referring to a similar a local law passed by the county in 2007 which established “pedophile-free child safety zones” where sex offenders could not live or work.

The county law was stricken down by State Supreme Court Judge William Kelly on the basis that the requirements could create confusion, potentially clashing with state laws which do not include categorical “buffer zone” restrictions.

The local law is modeled on a set of state proposals introduced by Assembyman Ken Zebrowski and Senator James Seward. Gromack argued the local law was a “parallel process” meant to create a local option if the pending state bill does not succeed by the beginning of summer recess in June.

With the introduction of a 9-bill package in the State Legislature, the issue has once again been brought to the forefront. The new laws, which have passed the Senate and now await approval in the Assembly, would close the legal loophole which allows sex offenders to reside near some kindergarten and pre-k programs.

The state laws would also work with a recent Court of Appeals decision ruling the state alone has the power to restrict the movement of sex offenders. If passed, the new state laws would explicitly permit localities to create their own laws on the matter.

The Independent Democratic Conference and Senate Republicans teamed up to further argue their case for loophole closures in February when Senators David Carlucci, Terrence Murphy and Bill Larkin issued a report documenting 13 cases of sex offenders living near schools in Rockland and Westchester Counties.

Locally, sex offenders have been a matter of recent concern. On Tuesday, Clarkstown Police held a public meeting to discuss movement of sex offenders into Clarkstown, particularly after police announced that a sex offender planned a move from West Nyack to Congers.

Legally, Clarkstown could face an uphill battle in its attempt to craft its own sex offender regulations. According to Clarkstown Town Attorney Amy Miele, any potential challenge to a local law will likely arise from a test case where constitutional questions come into play. However, it is also possible that a the court will rule the existing state laws pre-empt local laws, as it did with the county’s child safety zones in 2009.

Even if the state laws fail, Gromack said he believes changing attitudes and constant legal challenges could give Clarkstown some wiggle room to work around precedent to implement its own policies.

“I think it’s worth the effort to test [the law] again and again,” Gromack said. “Our town attorney is going to craft a bill that will stand constitutional muster and we will test it.”

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