Saturday, December 27, 2008

LA - State reassesses evacuation shelters for sex offenders

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This is ridiculous, why not just use the existing shelters, but hire a security guard or two?  That would save a ton of money, IMO.


By MARSHA SHULER - Advocate Capitol news bureau

September’s Hurricane Gustav blew away Quonset hut-type buildings near Zachary that state officials planned to use as hurricane evacuation shelters for sex offenders.

And now the state agency responsible for locating shelter sites is reassessing the situation, a spokesman said.

The buildings were located on State Police training property on Irene Road, but not anymore.

“That’s good enough reason to locate that shelter in another area, probably in north Louisiana,” said state Rep. Tom McVea (Email), R-St. Francisville. “They need to come up with something other than there."

“I’m waiting for Plan B,” McVea said.

The state Department of Social Services, called DSS, is working with the state Department of Corrections on an alternative location, DSS spokesman Trey Williams said.

The agency is trying to identify a solution “where these individuals can be securely housed in a safe environment and are looking at all options,” Williams said.

Williams said DSS hopes to have “a more concrete solution” ready for discussion by the end of January.

Earlier, DSS Undersecretary Ruth Johnson said there are no plans to rebuild on the State Police site.

The East Baton Rouge Parish location of the sex offender shelter has been a sore spot since it was selected.

Community leaders were told it would be a shelter for a “unique population,” which they said they thought meant for people with disabilities or handicaps. They later discovered that the plans called for up to 300 sex offenders to be housed in their area.

State law gives the state government the option of housing all offenders in one location or segregating the sex offenders within general population shelters such as those run by the Red Cross and churches.

State officials went for the central location instead of isolating the registered sex offenders in general shelter populations.

Opponents said it would result in up to 300 registered sex offenders housed in one community from all over the evacuated area. The sex offenders could come and go at will because they are not prisoners, they said.

During the 2007 Legislative Session, McVea and other area lawmakers pushed legislation aimed at stopping the plan to use the State Police property. He argued that local governments should have to approve before sex offender shelters are put in an area.

But critics of the legislation said no local government would agree to housing the sex offenders.

TX - Sex offender group find ally at capitol

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Texas Voices, an organization made up of Texas sex offenders, has found an ally of sorts at the Texas capitol: a Dallas lawmaker who wants to relax the state's tough sex offender registration laws.

"Some offenses don't rise to the level" of needing registration, Rep. Roberto Alonzo (Contact), D-Dallas, said recently.

He's filed a bill, HB-190, that would give certain first-time sex offenders the ability to petition the courts to shorter their registration periods, or to have their registration completely waived . The vast majority of sex offenders in Texas must register on the state's Department of Public Safety website for life.

The bill is being hailed by Mary Sue Molnar, the mother of a convicted sex offender who is one of Texas Voices key organizers. "I have to tip my hat to him," Molnar said of Alonzo. "It's a very good start."

Molnar and her group have spent months meeting with lawmakers in an effort to find someone willing to carry a bill that would roll back some of the state's toughest sex offender laws.

The group never met with Alonzo. Alonzo said he filed his bill at the request of a Dallas judge who was fed up with low-risk offenders brought in on technical violations tying up the court's docket.

Texas Voices was founded earlier this year by several registered sex offenders and their family members who were incensed by the state's lifetime registration laws.

The group now has hundreds of members, and tailors its message at those who committed non-violent offenses when they were in their late teens or early 20s with compliant victims a few years younger than themselves.

The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News ran a recent article about the group's efforts.