Published March 13. 2014 4:00AM
Hartford - Two bills that aim to protect residents when registered sexual offenders are released in their community got a hearing in the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Connecticut Council of Small Towns, several public officials and members of the public testified in support of Senate Bill 432, which would require the state's Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to email the chief executive officer of a municipality when a registered sex offender is released. Currently, local police are informed when a sex offender is released and the state's online sex offender registry is updated.
The other bill, which would require sex offenders who are released into the community to live at least 1,000 feet away from an elementary or secondary school or a licensed child day care center, received less support.
Montville Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel said he supports both measures but that neither would help the town with its concerns about sex offenders from other towns being placed in Norwich or Montville.
Last year, in response to community concerns, the Department of Correction told the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments that more offenders were moved from Norwich to other communities than were placed in Norwich from other towns. Several municipal officials weren't convinced.
State Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, who testified in favor of Senate Bill 432, said the bill would give the chief executive officer discretion to inform residents.
Residents of a Woodbridge neighborhood were unaware of a group home that housed two sex offenders for several years, he said.
One had been convicted of four felony sex crimes involving girls ages 5 and 7; the other had been convicted of two felony crimes involving the sexual assault of a child, Crisco said.
The town eventually moved the bus stop that had been located in front of the group home, he said.
House Bill 5449, which would require sex offenders to live at least 1,000 feet from elementary and secondary schools and licensed child day care centers, was opposed by many who said it would create more homelessness among sex offenders, thereby making it difficult for parole officers to monitor them.
McDaniel said Montville doesn't want sex offenders living near its schools. But so far, the town has been unsuccessful in passing an ordinance that limits where sex offenders can live, he said.
"We have child safety zones already here in Montville, which prevents them from hanging out at parks or elementary schools or anywhere where there are children," he said. "But there isn't anything about living."
The mayor said in a phone interview Wednesday, "If we knew that they were being released or housed in a very sensitive area, we would certainly try to address that if they were still on probation or parole with a probation officer or if it was with a private organization that works with them."
McDaniel noted that The Connection Inc., which runs the January Center treatment facility in Montville, and parole officers claimed the offenders were homeless so they couldn't return to the community they came from.
"I understand there are homeless people, and I am not trying to minimize that," McDaniel said. "But if they were homeless, they were homeless somewhere."
Eric Ellison, parole manager for the DOC, said stable housing is important for re-entry into the community and that residency restrictions do not prevent sexual offenses.
Jillian Gilchrest, director of public policy and communication for the statewide coalition Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, said that "dangerous offenders who pose a risk to children are already prohibited from living near schools, parks, day care centers, and other places where children congregate." In nearly 95 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the victim knows the perpetrator, she said, so a restriction on where the offenders live could create a false sense of security.