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September 24, 2019

8/17/2019 7:30:00 AM
City Council approves new sex offender ordinance
Appeal board to be formed
Heather Schaefer and Jamie Taylor
Of the River News

The Rhinelander Common Council voted unanimously Monday to enact a new activity/residency ordinance directed at convicted sex offenders. Now the council must determine who will hear appeals brought by offenders.

With no discussion, the council passed an ordinance that prohibits convicted sex offenders from being within 150 feet of a parcel of land "upon which there is a public, parochial, private, or tribal school and its grounds educating one or more grades between Kindergarten and grade 12, a licensed child care center, a playground, a public park, a licensed entertainment facility or a facility of the Rhinelander District Library located within the city."

Convicted sex offenders are also prohibited from handing out Halloween candy and dressing as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, "unless the designated offender is the parent or guardianship of the child/children involved, and no non-familial children are present," the ordinance states.

The ordinance also prohibits offenders from residing "within 500 feet of a parcel of land upon which there is a public, parochial, private, or charter school and its respective grounds educating one or more grades between kindergarten and grade 12, a licensed child care center, a playground, a public park, a licensed entertainment facility or a facility of the Rhinelander District Library located within the city."

Those found to have violated the new ordinance can be fined $500 to $1,000.

There are, however, "affirmative defenses" available to those whose behavior this ordinance regulates.

For the proximity ordinance, sex offenders cannot be fined if they can show that they were within 150 feet of the prohibited areas for one of the following reasons:

• To vote in a local, state, or national election or referendum;

• With the permission of the owner or occupant of the particular school, child care center, park, playground, or licensed entertainment facility;

• With the intent to travel to a location outside the restricted area;

• To travel to or remain on land lawfully owned or occupied by the offender on the effective date of the ordinance, or before the date the school, child care center, park, playground, or licensed entertainment facility was established;

• To obtain medical care, or alcohol or drug treatment;

• To travel to or remain at a transitional living program operated by an entity that is tax exempt under IRC § 501(c)(3) and under contract with the state department of corrections; or

• To travel to or remain at a care and service residential facility properly licensed, certified, or registered under Ch. 50, Wis. Stats.

For the residency ordinance, the follow defenses apply:

• The offender resided at the particular address at least 30 days continuously before the effective date of the ordinance;

• The offender resided at least 30 days at the particular address before and continuously since the date that the particular school, child care center, playground, park or entertainment facility opened for use;

• The residence is a facility which only temporarily houses individuals who have a medical, alcohol, or drug treatment need, and the offender is receiving such treatment;

• The residence is a facility operated by an entity designated a non-profit under IRC § 501(c)(3) which only temporarily houses individuals by contract with the department of corrections as a transitional living program;

• The sex offender residence board has granted an exemption for the offender.

A second and final public hearing on the ordinance was held Monday but no one in the gallery chose to speak.

With the passage of the ordinance, the city is required to empanel a board to hear appeals, city administrator Daniel Guild told the council Monday.

"Due to the fact that the sex offender ordinance was passed earlier this evening, one of the provisions within the ordinance that guarantees the due process rights of offenders is to create a residency restrictions appeals board, so folks who find the restrictions we've imposed to be unnecessarily harsh given their particular circumstances that they have recourse to go to and talk about their appeal," the administrator explained.

Guild went on to explain that the city has at least three options for populating the appeal board. It could seek applications from private citizens to serve on the board, designate the police and fire commission to act as the appeal board or take on the responsibility themselves as a council.

Whatever direction the council chooses, acting city attorney Hector de la Mora of the von Briesen & Roper law firm urged the group to make a prompt decision.

"The federal courts, particularly in the southern part of the state, have intervened and have found liability on the part of the communities that have not had an appeal process, a form of due process, simply because many of these restrictions are somewhat geometric and mechanical and there are peculiar circumstances that may not have been anticipated, and this is a mechanism to deal with that," the attorney said.

After hearing from Guild and de la Mora, several alderpersons indicated they would like more time to consider the composition of the appeal board.

"I would think that we need time to think about this, talk to our constituents about this, and bring this back to another meeting" said alderperson Dawn Rog.

"I think we have to make a thoughtful decision on this," alderman Lee Emmer added.

Mayor Chris Frederickson agreed with the consensus that more time was needed, but also challenged the alderpersons to research the issue and come to the next meeting with ideas as to the potential composition of the appeal board.

"This is kind of the due diligence that we have as council is to look at these issues and bring them forward with a decision," the mayor said.

The city has been discussing a possible sex offender ordinance since April. The initiative began after Frederickson received a question asking if the city had any restrictions in place against sex offenders handing out Halloween candy.

Frederickson sought assistance from Guild, who started researching possibilities with the assistance of the police department.

A copy of the ordinance is available at rhinelandercityhall.org. It is included in the council's Aug. 12 meeting packet which can be accessed through a link on the calendar page. An audio recording of the council meeting is also available by visiting the City Hall Facebook page.





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