OpEd: Let local governments set safety zones for children

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

By Senator Connie M. Leyva and Assemblymember Marc Steinorth

Daily Bulletin

California’s sex offender laws are blanket policies that may not properly capture all of the nuances needed in various communities. While the state has laws that restrict where sex offenders can live, it is clear that communities know best where local children are most vulnerable and it is critical that local authorities have the necessary tools to protect them.

Jessica’s Law already prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks, but it does not restrict them from spending time in parks, community centers or other places where children may gather. Local jurisdictions need the authority to pass their own laws tailored to their individual community’s concerns.

The safety of our local communities — and especially the well-being of children and young people — is vitally important. That is why we have come together to spearhead important bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 267, to give local governments the ability to create nuanced laws, tailored to each unique community, that restrict where sex offenders can live and visit.

Orange County passed an ordinance in 2011 that prohibited sex offenders from visiting county-owned parks where children often gather. Pomona, Ontario, Highland, Loma Linda and other Inland Empire cities followed suit and passed their own local sex offender restrictions.

Unfortunately, last year, the 4th District Court of Appeal, Division 2, interpreted state law to exclude local governments from imposing restrictions on a sex offender’s daily life. This ruling largely invalidated the sex offender restrictions that locals had established to keep children in local communities safe. However, one justice concluded that if the Legislature wants to provide locals with more control, it can amend state law to permit local ordinances that are more restrictive than the state’s laws.

That is precisely the letter and spirit of SB 267: To once again empower local authorities to help keep kids safe from sex offenders.

It is estimated that more than 8 million people in California are survivors of some sort of sex crime. There are more than 80,000 registered sex offenders currently living in California.

Sponsored by the County of San Bernardino, our legislation will again enable local authorities to pass their own laws that protect children and young adults from sexual predators. If approved, SB 267 will also restore the legality of local laws like the ones in Pomona, Ontario, Highland and Loma Linda.

Local governments and agencies know best how to protect children in their own communities. A parent’s worst nightmare is to have their own child put in danger or victimized in their own neighborhood or community park where they should always be safe from harm. At its core, SB 267 is about local control. This legislation simply empowers local authorities with the tools they need to protect their own residents.

We look forward to working with our colleagues in the weeks and months ahead to move this local control and public safety measure through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk for his prompt consideration.

State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, represents the 20th Senate District. Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, represents the 40th Assembly District.