By Emily Nohr
Nebraska News Service
Nebraska lawmakers considered a series of bills March 16 that would tighten regulations for people convicted of sex crimes.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins proposed a bill that would prohibit sexual predators from residing within 500 feet of a park. The bill defines a park as “ground or floor space of at least 2,500 square feet.” Current state law restricts sexual predators from living within 500 feet of schools and licensed day cares.
The Sexual Predator Residency Restriction Act defines a sexual predator as an individual who committed an aggravated offense and has victimized a child under the age of 18. Sexual predators must register as sex offenders.
Bloomfield said he introduced the bill on behalf of children of Nebraska, especially those who live in towns that border Iowa.
In 2006, the Iowa Legislature passed stricter residency regulations for registered sex offenders. Because of Nebraska’s weaker laws, Bloomfield said, those people have moved to Nebraska border towns, like South Sioux City.
Before Iowa changed its residency requirements, South Sioux City, Neb., was home to six sexual predators, Bloomfield said.
Today, the Nebraska State Patrol online sex offender registry lists 32 registered sex offenders currently living in South Sioux City, a city of about 13,300 people. More than 20 of those, Bloomfield said, are sexual predators, people who have victimized children under the age of 18.
The Web site, however, does not list whether a person is a sex offender or a sexual predator. While both must register as sexual offenders, only sexual predators are convicted of victimizing children under the age of 18.
The bill’s language and the public’s inability to check if their neighbors are sexual predators raised some concern among senators.
“We have to make sure this is an enforceable law,” said Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln.
Scot Ford, South Sioux City’s chief of police, backed the bill, asking senators to look at it as a public safety issue.
“We don’t want our parks to become a hunting ground,” he said.
Valerie Oakleaf, a resident of McCool Junction, said the bill is necessary in communities that may no longer have schools or licensed day cares.
“This would definitely help in keeping children safe in smaller communities,” she said. “It keeps children safe … when that restriction may not exist elsewhere.”
Representatives from the League of Nebraska Municipalities and the Nebraska County Officials Association also testified in favor of the bill.
But the bill also had four opponents.
Brian Kitt, an Omaha resident and registered sex offender, said the bill concerns him even though it only applies to sexual predators–which he is not, he said. Kitt was convicted in 1999 of receiving child porn in the mail and in 2004 for possessing child pornography.
Kitt called Bloomfield’s bill a “feel good law” that would have little impact on a sexual predator’s likeliness to commit another sexual crime.
“Do you think where that person lives makes a difference?” he asked, citing national cases where sexual predators drove hundreds of miles to prey on children.
Teresa Kempf, a Hastings resident and mother of a convicted sex offender, said the bill does not consider the severity of crimes sex offenders commit. Instead, sex offenders and sexual predators are all lumped into one category, she said. Kempf’s son, Joseph Kempf, was convicted in March 2010 of possessing sexually explicit visuals on his computer.
Kempf argued that the bill has unintended consequences.
“(If) you restrict where they live, you take them out of a community and their support system,” she said.
Sexual predators who currently reside within 500 feet of a park would be exempt if this bill became law. They also would be exempt if a park were established within 500 feet of his or her residence.
The bill would not apply to sex predators living in a prison, correctional facility or treatment facility. Bloomfield said that he has received suggestions from at least one senator to add nursing homes to that list.
The committee took no initial action on the bill.
Other bills heard were:
• Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk proposed LB 671, a bill that would prohibit registered sex offenders from changing their name. He introduced the bill on behalf of the Norfolk Regional Center, a sex offender treatment center located in Flood’s district.
• LB 460, introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, would change one provision in the state’s current Sex Offender Registration Act. The bill would change the word “address” to “residence.”