update (Aug. 26, 2007): Carl Strock, the Schenectady Daily/Sunday Gazette‘s “The View from Here” columnist continues his insightful/inciteful commentary on the County’s sex offender law today in a piece titled “Legislators scramble on sex offenders” (Aug. 26, 2007, p. B1). I suggest you click and read the entire column. Carl attended the Legislative Meeting on Thursday, and says “I don’t know when I have seen such frenetic back-pedaling. . .. It was like a rugby scrum in reverse.” He also writes:
- “So the legislators tugged and grappled, and in the end they come up with a tangled mess, which is, however, better than what they began with. I’ll give them that.”
- “. . .[Republican Legislator] Bob Farley . . . voted with [Chair Susan] Savage to keep [the authority to evict sex offenders] in place. Why? “There were many citizens in Scotia who asked me to do that, and I agreed to do that.’ he told me after the meeting. (I’m glad there weren’t many citizens in Scotia who asked him to jump off the Western Gateway Bridge.)”
- “The advisory board . . . are to study such innovations as a ‘secure housing facility’ for sex offenders in Schenectady and other matters too fanciful to enumerate.” [Editor’s note: Imagine the NIMBY fights when a zoning variance is needed to build such a facility.]
- “If you repeat a lie often enough, it does get around, I grant that. Witness the headline the next day in this newspaper: “Law to protect kids is altered.” Not a scintilla of evidence that residency restrictions protect children was even offered, much less confirmed. They just kept repeating it, like an incantation.”
At The Schenectady Internet Virtual Community, “Hardcore Conservative,” business owner Joe Mack disagrees with Strock’s jab at Farley, saying “Carl – newsflash for ya… Legislators are voted into office to speak as a representative FOR THE PEOPLE they represent. Listening to constituents is what they’re SUPPOSED to do. Having done any less and we’d ALL be voting him out of office.” I’m sorry, Joe, but when a relatively small number of citizens ask you to create a law that is unwise and unconstitutional, the wise and responsible legislator might empathize with their concerns, but politely and strongly declines to act.
As I hope to write about in detail later today, the Quincy, Massachusetts, Patriot Ledger, has started the Gatehouse series we featured below in this post, with “Sex Offender: A Flawed Law – Right Next Door” (Aug. 26, 2007, pt. one of two). See also, Massachusetts’ Metro West Daily News, which has an excellent editorial “Wise veto of a flawed law” (Dec. 4, 2006), that declares “The proposal [which would ban sex offenders from 95% of the City of Marlborough] is politically popular but, as we’ve argued in this space, impractical and misguided. While the city’s police chief and solicitor raised objections during the council debates, Mayor Nancy Stevens was quiet — until Thursday, when she wisely vetoed the measure” as unconstitutional and likely to give the public a false sense of security.
update (Aug. 25, 2007): Today’s lead editorial at the Schenectady Daily Gazette, “How now on Schenectady County sex offender law?” (Aug. 25, 2007), asks “Is this any way to pass legislation that could substantially affect constituents’ lives?” And answers, ” Of course not”. It continues:
“Legislative leaders finally realized how flawed their law was . . . The smartest thing would have been to startover: Create a committee, give it a reasonable length of time to look into the issue, make some recommendations that could then be discussed in the community before a law was finalized and a vote taken. Instead, the Legislature decided to keep half of the law in effect . . .
“Meanwhile, the committee it did create seems excessively large [41 members]. How will this many people ever find the time to meet, discuss and form some decent recommendations with the next three months?
“Was this just an exercise in futility concocted by the legislative majority as window dressing, to get Republicans, town supervisors and other critics off its back? Minority Leader Robert Farley was certainly stunned when the Democrats adopted his party’s plan.”
update (Aug. 24, 2007): For a very good summary of last night’s Schenectady County Legislature Meeting, see “Law to protect kids is altered” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Kathleen Moore, Aug. 24, 2007), which lists the many potential pieces of legislation a special council on sex offenders is expected to consider (some of which seem glaringly unconstitutional to Your Editor); it also has post-Meeting reactions from Duanesburg’s Supervisor Rene Merrihew, who would have preferred repealing the residency restrictions and letting the newly-established Council recommend a package of actions. The Albany Times Union covers the Meeting this morning in “Sex offender residency rules eased” (Jimmy Vielkind, Aug. 24, 2007; text reprinted here). Scroll down for our late-night summary of the Meeting.
Quickie Editorial: The altered SORR is obviously an improvement over the original “evict-’em-all” version. Nonetheless, it’s is discouraging that so many “leaders” voted to keep in place 2000–feet residence exclusion zones that they believe make for bad policy and they know are highly unlikely to protect children from “predators”. There is no emergency (no rash of repeat sex offences and no statistics about actual “dumping” of offenders from other counties) requiring this “pass-the-law-first and then study the problem” approach, and no reason to believe the highhanded Chair of the Legislature will allow repeal of the residency restrictions to be a permissible option for the final report of the Special Council.
follow-up (March 27, 2010): Despite the amendments described above, the Schenectady County sex offender residency law was voided yesterday by State Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer, who held that the law was pre-empted by New York State laws covering restrictions on where sex offenders may live. See “Sex offender law tossed out” (Albany Times Union, March 27, 2010). The case was brought pro bono by the Albany law firm of [Terence] Kindlon Shanks & Associates, which has successfully challenged similar laws in Albany, Resselaer and Washington Counties. Attorney Kathy Manley handled the Schenectady County case for the Kindlon law firm.
It is particularly sad that the often-thoughtful Vince DiCerbo placed such emphasis on the appearance of Albany Legislator Christine Benedict at the public hearing for his decision to back residency restrictions. Benedict came to the hearing hoping to score political points with her own voters; she asked the Schenectady Legislature not to continue the restrictions, pointing out that they were much more severe than Albany’s. The fact that she voted for Albany’s residency zones is no excuse for Schenectady’s legislators to impose more draconian restrictions. The Albany law sets up 1000-feet exclusion zones around schools and day care facilities, but not public parks, pools and playgrounds. When I asked Vince whether the Albany exclusion zones would keep sex offenders from living anywhere in that City, he said he did not know. So, one Albany politician’s political posturing provoked a Schenectady politician to change position and vote for a law that he admits is bad in theory. A sad example for our children, and for impressionable adults. [The Schenectady Daily Gazette printed this “mini-editorial” as a Letter to the Editor, on Sept. 5, 2007.]
update (10 PM, Aug. 23, 2007): Here is a quick and dirty summary of what happened at tonight’s Legislative Special Meeting to consider changes to the Schenectady County sex offender residency laws. See FoxNews23.com, “Sex offender law revised,” Aug. 23, 2007. (I reserve the right to rewrite this in the morning):
The Legislature’s meeting started 80 minutes late, as both parties worked to make amendments to the second of the resolutions that were going to be considered tonight. The Relocation Law was repealed, with only Leg. Chair Susan Savage and Legislator Farley voting against it.
The Legislature then passed the second resolution (Law 07-2007) to remove Level One offenders from the basic residency law. The new feature in the resolution was appointing a 41-member committee that would work for 90 days and come back with recommendations, with the Legislature then having 30 days to act upon the recommendations. [Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the legislation and cannot go into great detail.] The Committee will be made up of lots of office holders, including the Town Supervisors, three members of the Legislature, the Mayor, Police Chiefs, heads of Probation and other departments, some public members, and other stakeholders. The mandate of the Committee includes considering many measures suggested by Legislator Farley (such as having secured housing facilities. GPS tracking for all, etc.)
Only Mike Eidens voted against the second resolution. He said it did a lot of good things but was doing things backwards by ratifying restrictions on Level 2’s and 3’s and then studying the issues — this would make it very difficult to undo the residency restrictions already in place.
Leg. Farley thanked the Chair for accepting the minority’s amendment to have the Committee. He gave special thanks to Legislators Lazzari and Eidens. He explained his vote against repeal of the relocation law, by saying “There were many citizens in Scotia who asked me to do that, and I agreed to do that.”
Leg. Suhrada wished they would repeal and really start fresh, but would support the measure and work together.
Leg. Hughes said we’ve been told to listen to the stakeholders and the children are the primary stakeholders. He said sex crimes are crimes of opportunity and having the restrictions will reduce the offender’s chances of contact with victims
Leg. DiCerbo said he had been leaning toward rescinding both laws and, at first, the public hearing affirmed that position, but his mind was changed when Albany Legislator Christine Benedict took the floor and said she did not want Schenectady to send offenders back into her district. In theory, these laws don’t work, but in practice we need exclusion zones when other Counties have them. Wishes other Counties would come together and repeal all residency restrictions. But, if we don’t keep this law, we will be “the hole in the donut.”
Leg. Gordon stressed that “our underlying theme” is having the children’s interests at heart. He stressed that 13 counties in the State have residency restrictions and that could lead to having people placed in our community “that we do not want here.”
Legislator Kosiur spoke briefly, stressing that Dr. Hamill never told the Legislature that he did a study showing that 85% of SOs failed polygraph tests as to whether they had violated parole restrictions. He said this law would ultimately make our County and children safer.
Leg. D’Agostino stressed that “we have learned to listen to eachother” and pointed out that the resolutions allows the towns to pass more restrictive laws (so, we listened to them).
Susan Savage gave a rather arrogant and ungracious explanation of her vote for the 2d resolution. She stressed that we have to act to keep Schenectady from being a dumping ground, since 13 other counties have residency restrictions. Savage (like DiCerbo) said Albany legislator Christine Benedict swayed anyone on the fence when she hypocritically said they did not want Schenectady to send offenders back to Albany, which has a 1000-foot restriction. Savage said Schenectady’s law is in the middle and not as draconian as some counties (which, e.g., bar living and working within 1000 feet). She said the NYCLU should do some research and pick better counties to sue. She told Town Supervisors, “the ball is in your court” and go ahead and start your own sex offender programs if you want to. She said she appointed a committee two years ago, headed by Eidens, and it never reported back to her. She also stressed that we can’t wait for the State to act to solve our problems — that “kids and families have to depend on us.”
Sex Offenders: A Flawed Law: Gatehouse News Service has just released a study that shows that “The correlation between residency requirements for registered sex offenders and the number of sex crimes — both new and recidivist — indicates that bans on sex offenders don’t actually keep children safe.” The project is meant to run as a two-day series in newspapers (embargoed until Aug. 25 – 26, 2007; find it, e.g., in the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, MA — Part One and Part Two)). Please contact your local newspaper and ask them to consider running this important story. Below the fold, you can find links to the various articles and charts, covering “hysteria costs,” “absurdity breakout,” “civil lawsuits,” “what works,” “political pressure,” etc., and an accompanying video. [thanks to Rev. David “the parson” Hess for the tip.]
Tonight at 7 P.M. (Aug. 23, 2007), the members of the Schenectady County Legislature will vote on two resolutions that would change the laws they passed on June 12, 2007, which currently — by banning registered sex offenders from living withing 2000 feet of schools, playgrounds and day care facilities and requiring relocation of RSOs already living in the exclusion zones — constitute the State’s toughest sex offender residency restrictions [SORR]. After a surprise defeat in a special election at the end of June, the Democratic majority decided it had to change the laws. In the posting “New Schenectady sex offender law proposal” (Aug. 13, 2007), I described the proposed changes, which most importantly would remove Level One offenders from the scope of the laws and rescind the forced-relocation law. The proposals would, however, keep the rest of the restrictions on the books, and encourage smaller local units to consider passing more restrictive laws, while setting up addition monitoring systems in the County.
You can read the text of the Resolutions under consideration by clicking SchdyCountyProposedSOLawAug07 . I’ll be grouping my coverage of the changes in those laws and the process leading to it in this post, updating it over the next fews days. My prior coverage of the Schenectady sex offender laws can be found primarily in the following postings:
- “Schenectady’s PanderPols vote to evict sex offenders” (June 13, 2007)
- “Stop Kosiur’s Law: my first single-issue election” (July 30, 2007);
- “NYCLU letter threatens lawsuit over Schenectady County sex offender law” (Aug. 7, 2007)
- “not one repeat child-molesting stranger: Strock” (Aug. 9, 2007);
The Public Hearing on Changing Schenectady’s SORR Laws: There was a two-and-a-half-hour public meeting last night (Aug. 22) on the proposed changes. Most speakers asked the Legislators to rescind both parts of its sex offender laws, not merely the forced relocation portion, and to step back and actually study the complicated issue, with meaningful input from experts and “stakeholders.” The Schenectady Daily Gazette‘s Kathleen Moore has a good, lengthy report on the meeting in her article “Citizens speak on sex offender laws” (Aug. 23, 2007 ), which notes:
“More than a dozen speakers told the Schenectady County Legislature Wednesday to throw out both of its sex offender laws and start over with local experts who would actually research the issue. But it is not clear whether those speakers persuaded the legislators, none of whom spoke during the session.” . . .
“But two residents [Bill Marincic of Schenectady’s Vale Village and Jeff Parry of Scotia] urged the Legislature to stand its ground.” . . .
“. .. most speakers, including [Brad Littlefield of Delanson] said the Legislature could find a local solution if it acted slowly. They urged the legislators to contact the many local officials in charge of counseling, supervising and punishing sex offenders and ask them what legislation would help them do their jobs better.”
Mr. Marincic spoke passionately in favor of the current laws, saying “My 15-year-old daughter [who accompanied him] is a prisoner in her own home,” and “I’m tired of all these do-gooders that want to destroy the fabric of our country.” When Marincic directly and forcefully confronted Albany Law School Professor Stephen E. Gottlieb, who came as a representative of the NYCLU, the Chair should have sternly reminded him to address the Legislature, not the audience, but Ms. Savage said nothing. Marincic said that 7 convicted Level Three sex offenders live within one block of his house. Littlefield urged the Legislators to “be heroes” and take the time to come up with comprehensive and effective solutions that could be a model for communities across the nation.
The Albany Times Union quotes a number of the speakers in the article “Schenectady sex offender law rapped,” by Paul Nelson (Aug. 23, 2007), and notes:
“Most of the speakers criticizing the proposal were municipal officials and homeowners from Duanesburg. Many argued the proposed amendments are not nearly enough and instead demanded politicians delay action until the topic is better researched. A New York State Civil Liberties Union representative said more needs to be done to stave off a threatened lawsuit.” . . .
“Richard Hamill, a mental health expert who said he works with both sex offenders and victims told the panel they need to consider bringing law enforcement, treatment providers, victim advocates and prosecutors to the table.
“We don’t want you to be the experts, we just expect that you will ask the people who have the expertise,” he said. “There has to be a regional approach.”
. . . “But if there was one issue that forces for and against the issue could agree on: it was that New York needs to pass statewide legislation.”
When I had my chance to speak, I hoped to reassure worried parents like Marincic and Legislators who felt they were letting such constituents down, by reading a few sentences from Residential Proximity & Sex Offense Recidivism in Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Corrections, April 2007):
“even when offenders established direct contact with victims, they were unlikely to do so close to where they lived. This may be due mostly to the fact that offenders are more likely to be recognized within their own neighborhoods. As a result, when direct contact offenders look for a victim, they are more likely to go to an area relatively close to home (i.e. within 20 miles of their residence), but still far enough away (i.e., more than one mile) to decrease the chances of being recognized.”
I also opined that (when concerned parents voiced their fears about living near sex offenders and insisted they be removed from their neighborhoods), the Legislators should have showed sympathy for the fears, but insisted that the laws they wanted would be “ineffective, counterproductive, and unAmerican.” I thanked the Legislature for teaching me to pay attention to what is happening here locally and to be diligent in preserving our civil liberties, and the proper relationship of the government to the people — no matter which party is in control (I remain embarrassed that Democrats spawned this legislation and are still playing politics).
The County Legislature has turned us all into amateur psychologists and political strategists — wondering constantly “what were they thinking?!” and trying to imagine what a brainstorming session must be like within the Democratic Caucus. This rush to vote immediately today on the proposed changes — with no opportunity to vote to rescind both portions of the law — again suggests that politics is more important to the Legislative leaders than getting this right.
They do need to act quickly to reassure sex offenders and their families who are worried about having to move by October 1st, when the laws go into effect. And removing Level One offenders from the law is also important. However, those goals could have been accomplished by a public announcement of a moratorium/ postponement on enforcing those provisions.
The mixed message of removing two odious aspects of the law, while otherwise maintaining the poorly-conceived legislation, and “permitting” the City and towns to pass more restrictive measures [powers that they already have] simply looks like more political posturing.
This evening, I hope to hear from Susan Savage that she is delaying enforcement of the entire sex offender law until at least Jan. 1, 2008. At a minimum, I hope legislators from both parties will voice their support for such a moratorium. That will allow time for a genuine effort to study the problems and come up with a meaningful, comprehensive and hopefully effective plan to address legitimate concerns of the people of Schenectady County.
p.s. On a somewhat related subject, I want to point out that I just learned via Google that there is a Level 3 Sex Offender living in Malden, Massachusetts, who is named David E. Giacalone. He is 42 years old. I do not know Mr. Giacalone, did not know he existed until two minutes ago, and have no reason to believe that we are related. (The fact that he is 6 feet tall, weighs 214 pounds, and has a relatively small forehead, suggests we have no blood relationship.) David E. was convicted of aggravated rape in 1985. Of course, if he has been law-abiding since committing his serious sex crime, and is in good faith pursuing a program to manage any antisocial tendencies, I would have no problem residing in the same community as he.
update: In August, 2007, the Gatehouse News Service issued a report and series called “Sex Offenders: A Flawed Law.” Although the multi-part series is no longer available at the Gatehouse website, you can find it a the Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA), where it ran on August 25 and 27, 2007: see Part One and Part Two; below are links to eight articles within the series; click the following link and scroll to the end of the article for a 4-minute video that accompanies the series.
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – RIGHT NEXT DOOR: Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not legislate where sex offenders can live
First in a two-part series – Aug. 25, 2007
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – BACK ON THE STREET: Mom of three molested children pushes for stricter sex offender sentencing (video in story)
First in a two-part series – Aug. 25, 2007
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – Violent crime drives U.S. offender laws
First in a two-part series – Aug. 25, 2007
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – Not all equal: State sex registries can be unforgiving; Some will pay the rest of their lives for mistakes in youth
Second in a two-part series – Aug. 27, 2007; scored 147.0
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – Experts: Education best defense against predators
First in a two-part series – Aug. 25, 2007
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – State struggles with registry
Second in a two-part series – Aug. 27, 2007
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – Right cop helps sex offender registry work; Police choose their officers carefully
Second in a two-part series – Aug. 27, 2007
SEX OFFENDERS: A FLAWED LAW – It’s easy, but does it work? Banishing sex offenders gets a second look
Second in a two-part series – Aug. 27, 2007
This is our original pointer to the Gatehouse series; unfortunately, the links are no longer working:
Sex Offenders: A Flawed Law: Gatehouse News Service has just released a study that shows that “The correlation between residency requirements for registered sex offenders and the number of sex crimes — both new and recidivist — indicates that bans on sex offenders don’t actually keep children safe.” The project is meant to run as a two-day series in newspapers (embargoed until Aug. 25 – 26, 2007). Please contact your local newspaper and ask them to consider running this important story.
Below are links to the various articles and charts, and an accompanying video.