nashobapublishing.com: AG OKs sex-offender bylaw.
Towsend- Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's office has issued its approval of the sex-offender bylaw adopted by residents at the Special Town Meeting Sept. 1. Under the bylaw, convicted Level 2 and 3 sex offenders may not live within 1,000 feet of the public library, schools, day-care centers, parks, elderly housing facilities or places of worship. Those convicted of a sex crime against a child may not loiter within 300 feet of a park. Violations are civil matters and first-time violators must move, but the second offense carries a $300 fine, according to the by-law.
Police Chief Erving M. Marshall Jr. was pleased, but sounded a note of caution against violating a convicted sex offender's rights.
"I think we have to be careful with it," Marshall said. "I think there are issues that could be conceived as discriminatory in it, but I suggested it to protect kids and senior citizens."
The bylaw had to be crafted to allow convicted sex offenders a place to live, he said.
"We have to make sure, even though we are trying to protect citizens, you can't deny sex offenders a place to live," Marshall said.
The Planning Board reviewed Coakley's office's decision Monday, said Planning Board Administrative Assistant Jeanne Hollows.
"It's just a confirmation that the way it was voted has been approved," she said. Coakley's office has reviewed "quite a few" similar bylaws around the state in the past few years, said spokesman Jill Butterworth. "To make sure they are constitutional. Do we like this, do we not like this," she said. "We are making sure they are consistent with laws already on the books.
Residents debated the question with concerns about its constitutionality and the false sense of security it could provide before overwhelmingly adopting it by a voice vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is concerned about bylaws that limit where registered sex offenders can live, said spokesman Chris Ott. Limiting their housing could force some convicted sex offenders into homelessness and defeat the purpose of the bylaw, which is to track their whereabouts, he said. "We also don't do this for other kinds of crimes," Ott said. "We don't say people who have been in jail, for murder for instance, we don't say they can't go within a certain radius of this or that. What is it about this particular crime that inspires this, it doesn't make sense."
Bylaws that limit where convicted sex offenders can live also create a false sense of security, he said.
"Most (over 95% according to research) of these crimes are committed by people who are part of a child's life, so measures like this don't address that aspect of the issue," Ott said.