Sex offenders may be banned from schools

The Oldsmar council gives preliminary okay.

Published May 18, 2007

OLDSMAR - When sexual offenders hang out at a public park, there is little that law enforcement can do, especially if they are off probation.

But that could change soon in Oldsmar.

The City Council this week unanimously gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that would ban convicted sexual offenders and predators from places where kids congregate.

The ordinance would create a 300-foot protective zone around schools, day care centers, youth sports facilities, public pools, playgrounds, libraries and parks during times they are frequented by children.

City Council member Eric Seidel proposed the ordinance and said he is concerned that those areas are magnets for those who would victimize minors.

"It's unfortunate that we have to do this, but it's a sign of the times, " Seidel said.

Tampa has a similar ordinance, he said, "but theirs doesn't include offenders."

That's a key distinction, because there are many more sexual offenders than sexual predators. Offenders generally have been accused of less serious crimes.

To be designated a predator, the person must have received that label from a judge. Predators also must have committed their crimes after Sept. 30, 1993, and must have committed a first-degree felony or two second-degree felonies.

In Oldsmar, there are nine registered sexual offenders, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. None have been designated sexual predators.

Under Oldsmar's proposed ordinance, a sexual offender who crossed into the safety zone could face a fine, imprisonment or both.

Exceptions would be made for offenders who accompany their own children to events such as ball games or school. And the prohibition doesn't apply to single trips while traveling past a location.

Though council members largely supported the idea when it came up at Tuesday night's meeting, they did have some concerns.

Some council members wondered about so-called Romeo and Juliet cases, where juveniles were involved in consensual sexual relationships.

Vice Mayor Suzanne Vale said she was worried that teens in those circumstances "shouldn't be considered sexual offenders."

"I would count them as sexual offenders if they did that to my daughter, " shot back council member Greg Rublee.

Council member Janice Miller was concerned about potential legal issues.

"If somebody is a sexual offender or predator, and they own property and pay taxes, can we do this?" she asked.

In this case, Seidel said, "the good outweighs the bad."

The mayor agreed.

"The most important thing we can do is protect our children and our residents, " Mayor Jim Ronecker said.

Thom Foley, chairman of the Pinellas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, was mum on the matter.

Speaking for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Sgt. Judy Vovan said there are laws to deal with registered sexual offenders and predators.

"Right now if someone called in, we would respond and investigate, and if there was legal action we could take it, " said Vovan, who works in the sheriff's Sexual Predator and Offender Tracking Unit.

"You're going to have to have the full support of the community, law enforcement and State Attorney's Office, " she said. "We'll have to take a look at it three or four months from now and see if it's working."

Rublee wanted to make sure the law, called the Child Safety Zone Ordinance, would pass muster with the Sheriff's Office.

"We want to make sure it's enforceable, " he said.

City Attorney Tom Trask said he plans to speak with the agency before the final vote is taken June 5.

Good, said Rublee, adding, "I just don't want to lose a lawsuit to a pervert."

Terri Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.