NEW PORT RICHEY — The City Council is seeking a legal review of its sex offender ordinance to give it more teeth.
New Port Richey's ordinance already bans registered sex offenders convicted in Florida of a sex crime on a child under 16 from living within 2,500 feet of a school, day care center, library, church, park or playground.
But after hearing from resident Tom Harris, the council decided on Tuesday to possibly follow the lead of the tiny East Pasco city of San Antonio, which in January beefed up its ordinance by increasing its required buffer by 500 feet, as well as adding bus stops to the mix.
"San Antonio did it,'' Harris told the council, "why can't we?"
Interim Deputy City Attorney Susan Churuti offered to review the city's ordinance and come back with any recommendations for possible changes.
"It never hurts to take another look," she said.
Harris decried state laws that mandate a 1,000-foot buffer for registered sex offenders who are no longer being supervised by the state on probation or parole, but were convicted under Florida law of a sex crime on a child under 16.
Harris said another loophole needs to be addressed as sex offenders who come to Florida from outside the state are required to register, but since their convictions occurred in another state, there are no restrictions on where they live.
New Port Richey's ordinance has similar language to the state law in outlining its 2,500-foot buffer requirement for sex offenders living in the city who have been convicted of sex crimes under Florida law, but the wording also allows for offenders convicted outside the state to live anywhere in the city.
For Harris, who has three daughters, 13, 10 and 8, it is a huge concern. Currently, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lists 167 sex offenders with New Port Richey addresses. FDLE officials confirmed that sex offenders who come to Florida with convictions from other states are not subject to state restrictions on where sex offenders can live.
Cities and counties can address the issue locally, said Mary Coffee, FDLE planning and policy administrator of Florida Offender Registry and Tracking Services.
"I can't believe more people aren't outraged by this," Harris said. "It's like New Port Richey has put out the welcome mat for sex offenders."
New Port Richey police Chief Jeffrey Harrington said he hasn't seen an increase in sex offenders living in the area, but he is in favor of the upcoming review by legal advisers of the ordinance.