Legislation to create a statewide standard on where sex offenders can be placed was the subject of a Capitol hearing Thursday. The bill’s cosponsor, Merill Republican Representative Don Friske, said placing released sex offenders in communities is a hot button issue. “Each of us know, as representatives, there is nothing that fills a school auditorium quicker than trying to reintegrate a sex offender into your community,” Friske told the Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts. “As distastefully as I find that, and as troubling as a I find that, we’ll take ours, we don’t want yours.”

There are now more than one hundred such ordinances around the state, up from just 26 two years ago, and Friske said that trend could put communities which don’t enact such restrictions at a disadvantage. “Eventually you’re going to get to a point where your are isolating those communities and moving those sex offenders that require placement by Department of Corrections into areas that the offender’s not familiar with, but more importantly where the community’s not familiar with them.”

The bill (AB 759) prohibits local municipalities from creating ordinances to restrict placement of sex offenders by the Department of Corrections. One such ordinance is in Sheboygan, where Jim Gischia is Common Council president. “There’s been an awakening in our community, and our community now understands that previous policies or current policies have turned Sheboygan into an oasis for hundreds of sex offenders,” Gischia told the committee. Alderman Steve Olson of Franklin, the first city to pass such an ordinance, said his Milwaukee suburb was victimized by its larger neighbor and enacted the ordinance to protect itself. 

But should the state Department of Corrections be able to place released sex offenders in the communities where they offended, even if those communities object? State Representative Mark Gundrum isn’t so sure. “I’ve seen the Department of Corrections place a twice convicted child molester right next door to a home with seven young children,” said the New Berlin Republican. “I know that there are placement decisions that aren’t always perfect . . . we strive to do the best that we can,” said Melissa Roberts with the Department of Corrections, testifying in favor of the bill. “We feel that this (bill) will foster the communication on the local level, between our agents who are there in the community . . . and law enforcement.”

Bob Hague (1:10 MP3) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:10 MP3)

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