South St. Paul council approves ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live

The South St. Paul City Council has approved an ordinance that significantly restricts where convicted sex offenders and predators can live in the community.

As the council weighed the merits of the ordinance at its Oct. 3 meeting, Police Chief William Messerich said he had only received positive feedback relating to the proposed ordinance.

Messerich said that the ordinance had been on the police department’s radar for a while, but there was some hesitation because of concerns the new city code could be challenged in the courts. 

He explained that some Minnesota towns have approved regulations that are so stringent, they might be vulnerable to a lawsuit.

“If every city adopts an ordinance similar to the ones ... that restrict the entire city like some communities have done, it’s bound to get challenged because there’s going to be no place where the Level 3 offenders can reside,” Messerich said.

Messerich said having three Level 3 sex offenders move into the city this past summer sparked concerns. This prompted the police department and the city attorney to draft an ordinance regulating where the convicted sex offenders will now be allowed to live.

Every community should take their fair share of the offenders, Messerich said, but South St. Paul “has certainly gotten more than its fair share in the last couple months.”

Individuals categorized as Level 3 are registered predatory offenders who before they’re released from prison were determined to be at a higher risk of re-offending. After they have served their sentences, there is a community meeting in the city where they are going to live so that residents have information about them.

The new ordinance makes it unlawful for a designated offender to establish permanent or temporary residence within 1,500 feet of any public or private school, park or playground, places of worship that provide regular educational programs like Sunday school, licensed child care facilities and sexually oriented businesses.

The 1,500 feet is measured by a straight line from the outer property line of the offender’s residence to the nearest outer property line of the restricted area.

Any person violating this provision would be guilty of an administrative citation or misdemeanor and would be punished as provided by city code.

The ordinance does not apply to anyone currently living in South St. Paul. “They’re grandfathered in as long as they don’t move,” Messerich said.

A list of who would be excluded from this ordinance can be found online here. 

Detailed maps showing the restricted and allowed areas can be viewed on the ordinance packet as well.

Council member Bill Flately wondered is there something home sellers or apartment owners need to do, because they might not know a prospective buyer or renter is a Level 3 sex offender.

Messerich said the state Department of Corrections has to approve the residence, so a Level 3 offender has to notify authorities about where he or she is going to reside, and it will be clear if the dwelling is a proper location based off city restrictions.

The ordinance was approved unanimously and took effect Oct. 9.

Neighboring Inver Grove Heights recently discussed the same issue and passed an interim ordinance restricting where Level 3 offenders can live in the city.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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