Montville fine-tunes sex offender ordinances

Montville - The town will continue its push to place restrictions on where registered sex offenders are allowed.

The Town Council voted last week to refine the language in two separate ordinances that create so-called child and senior safety zones. The council crafted both with the intent to notify registered sex offenders they are being watched by the town.

The council set public hearings for Dec. 10 for people to weigh in on the restrictions. Councilors Dana McFee and Rosetta Jones continued to voice concerns Wednesday that the town is moving closer to setting itself up for a lawsuit.

"Certainly, there are concerns about fundamental, constitutional rights," Jones said about the senior safety zone ordinance. "I don't want to see the town get into some type of unnecessary litigation because someone has a suspicion."

The child safety zones are intended to keep registered sex offenders from town-owned places, such as beaches, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools. The senior safety zones restrict offenders from the senior center, senior buses, town-owned elderly housing and other elderly town functions.

Both ordinances have drawn criticism from some in town and the state American Civil Liberties Union. The state ACLU argued the restrictions violate basic rights. The ACLU also took exception with the town's belief that seniors were the targets of sex crimes.

Town Attorney Bryan Fiengo told the council Wednesday the senior safety zone measure mirrors a proposed law that reached the state legislature but never came up for a vote.

McFee questioned Fiengo on the town's liability in the event that a sex offender or the ACLU moved to sue the town for a violation of civil rights. Fiengo said he crafted the senior safety zone ordinance based on federal and state precedents. The explanation was not enough to allay McFee's fears.

"Are you going to represent the town of Montville free of charge if the ACLU sues us?" McFee quipped when questioning Fiengo.

The two ordinances were tweaked slightly to allow for new exemptions. For example, an offender who needs to enter either a child or senior safety zone to work may do so with the permission of a probation or parole officer.

If not on probation or parole, the offender would have to receive permission from either the mayor - technically the town's police chief - or the town's resident state trooper.

Other exemptions exist for offenders who wish to visit relatives in elderly housing. They must have permission from a probation or parole officer or the town.

"I understand people have issues with this, but our town has asked me to move forward on this, and we're going to protect our seniors," Councilor Billy Caron said.

The roots of both ordinances stretch back to the town's fight against the state's plans to open a residential sex-offender treatment facility in town.

The January Center opened Feb. 14 on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution.

JEFF.JOHNSON@THEDAY.COM

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