Hillsborough commissioners advance proposal to push sex offenders farther away from schools and parks
TAMPA — There are so few places for newly registered sex offenders to live in Pasco County that Hillsborough County officials worry they’ll start moving here.
The solution? Make it as hard for them to live in Hillsborough as it is to live in Pasco.
Hillsborough commissioners voted 7-0 on Wednesday to advance a proposal modeled after Pasco County’s 2015 ordinance that bars sex offenders whose victims were 16 or younger from living within 2,500 feet of a school, park and the like.
Florida law already prohibits most sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places where children often congregate. But counties can approve more sweeping restrictions so long as they pass constitutional muster.
Pasco’s ordinance is facing a legal challenge because the new 2,500-foot rule covers most of its urban and suburban areas. In that case, a 31-year-old who in September pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching a teenage girl says the ordinance left him with few places to live.
Commissioner Sandy Murman said if Pasco’s ordinance stands, sex offenders will move to Hillsborough unless commissioners act. Indeed, the plaintiff suing Pasco lives in a Hillsborough motel.
"These people technically cannot really be cured,” Murman said. “I’ve witnessed, seen incidents, where these people just go out and find new victims. We need to do everything we can to improve public safety here in Hillsborough County at all costs.”
Hernando and Pinellas counties have not passed tougher sex offender requirements than the state’s 1,000-feet rule. But Murman said 40 other counties in the state have expanded the residency buffer zone, making it “necessary for us to look at expanding our ordinance to protect our children.”
In conjunction with the state law, Hillsborough County also limits the number of sex offenders who can live in the same apartment complex or trailer park, and restricts them from loitering within 300 feet of schools, child care facilities and other places where children gather.
Commissioner Ken Hagan said those rules were designed in 2007 in concert with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. At the time, Hagan said the Sheriff’s Office told the County Commission that tougher penalties might push offenders underground, where they don’t register, are harder to track and can offend again. He said maps demonstrated that expanding the restricted space beyond 1,000 feet would leave just a handful of spots to live in all of Hillsborough.
Asked if Sheriff David Gee had weighed in on the proposed changes, the County Attorney’s office said the sheriff’s staff believed the current state law was satisfactory. There was not a representative from the Sheriff’s Office at Wednesday’s meeting.
“It’s premature to go ahead and draft language,” Hagan said. “Let’s get the Sheriff’s Office here, let’s show the maps, let’s show all the facts, and then go down that route.”
Murman, though, pressed to move forward: “Quite frankly, I don’t want them living here in Hillsborough County at all.”
Hagan ultimately voted to advance the measure. So did Commissioner Stacy White, who represents east Hillsborough and voiced concern “that our rural areas end up being the dumping ground for sexual offenders and sexual predators.”
White also asked county staff to consider extending the “clustering” rule that limits the number of offenders in a single apartment complex so it also includes subdivisions and residential neighborhoods.
Commissioner Victor Crist offered an amendment that would have kept the perimeter at 1,000 feet for sex offenders that agreed to undergo chemical castration. But his proposal was met with crickets and did not get a vote.
Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] Follow @scontorno.