Four people spoke out at the Gatesville City Council meeting Tuesday to urge council members to consider passing an ordinance that would restrict where child sex offenders can live.
GATESVILLE – Four people spoke out at the Gatesville City Council meeting Tuesday to urge council members to consider passing an ordinance that would restrict where child sex offenders can live.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state's sex offender registration program itself does not restrict sex offenders from living near children or going near places with kids. Instead, a mixture of city ordinances, community supervision restrictions and parole laws govern where convicted child sex offenders may reside. In accordance with the guidelines set by the Texas Government Code, child sex offenders who are released on parole are typically prevented from going within 500 feet of schools, daycares, public swimming pools and arcades while they are on community supervision or parole restrictions.
But, once any parole or community supervision restrictions expire, child sex offenders may live wherever they choose, unless a local community ordinance or some other law prevents them from doing so. Amber Wilson and a group of Gatesville residents pressed city leaders to adopt an ordinance that would do that by creating "child safety zones."
"They shouldn't be allowed to the kids' football games. Anything directed towards children is where I would like to see a child safety zone,” Wilson said.
In essence, she asked city council to create a law, under which convicted child sex offenders would need to permanently steer clear of places where children congregate—rather than only stay away from children for a set number of years.
"The frustration is that it's gone on for so long,” Kim Dewald, who also spoke at the meeting, said. “Why hasn't it been brought to attention and had action taken sooner?”
Gatesville City Manager Bill Parry said a majority of city council believes passing an ordinance to restrict sex offenders is a solution without a problem. He cited Gatesville’s relatively low number of registered sex offenders: 26, only one or two of whom are child sex offenders currently on community supervision.
"We want to do this in a very thoughtful way, which is: if there is a problem, we want to identify what the problem is and again the issues of earlier this year would not have been addressed by an ordinance or something along those lines,” Parry said.
council members also expressed concern Tuesday that establishing a local ordinance could lead to a costly lawsuit for restricting the rights of the offenders.
The lawsuit argument has precedent. Following pressure from the nonprofit organization Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, more than 20 Texas towns recently eased similar ordinances governing where sex offenders could reside. And, the nonprofit group has already sued more than a dozen towns over such legislation.
But, Wilson and her counterparts who support and
ordinance argue fear of a lawsuit should not prevent Gatesville from adopting legislation to protect children. In the last five years, Hewitt and Woodway were among a handful of local municipalities to pass sex offender ordinances.
"I was just in complete disbelief how after all these years, how do we have nothing? Nothing for our kids,” Wilson said.
The recent conversation in Gatesville was spurred by the arrest of Chet Shelton, in connection with the January homicide of Kai Lamar. Shelton is charged with aggravated sexual assault in connection with the toddler’s death. The type of local ordinance being described would not have applied to Shelton, since he was never required to register as a sex offender.
For frequently asked questions about the state's sex offender registry program, click here.