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07-11-06, 03:49 PM #1
Sex offenders file lawsuit to overturn law & allow them to live near schools
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A group of sexual predators in Jacksonville wants to overturn the city ordinance that requires them to keep their distance from places where children congregate.
Five registered sexual offenders in Duval County have been trying to change the city law, which requires them to live 2,500 feet from a park, school, day care, and other places where children gather.
One of the men named in the legal proceedings, Stephen Schmidte, is on probation for lewd and lascivious assault on a minor. Schmidt was not at available to comment on the group's efforts, but Harold Bailey, who knows Schmidte, said the city law is unfair.
"If it goes any further, he is going to have to move to the country somewhere and build a town out there," Bailey said.
Bailey's concern is one of the reasons why the law has been challenged.
The public defender said the city's law conflicts with state law, which requires sexual offenders to keep a distance of 1,000 feet from schools and parks.
The sexual offenders trying to change the law argue that the city ordinance is unconstitutional. They said the wording is vague and it's double jeopardy, in that they have already served their time for their crimes and the law is like a second sentence.
However, many parents disagree with the men trying to change the law.
"That's ridiculous. He made a really bad decision and that's something that is going to follow you for your life. That is the consequence you have to deal with," said a Jacksonville mother Tori Benjamine. "There are plenty of places they can live."
City attorneys agreed, and said they are ready to take on the challenge.
"The evidence has shown that there are tens-of-thousand of residential opportunities out there -- apartments, condo's, residences," said city attorney Scott Makar.
Sex offenders in Georgia recently filed a similar lawsuit.
A new law there would have prevented sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of school bus stops.
However, eight sex offenders challenged the law because they said there are 150,000 school bus stops across Georgia and the law would make them have to move out of Georgia.
A federal judge blocked the law temporarily and will decide whether to make his order permanent after a hearing in July.
A hearing for the Jacksonville case is scheduled for the end of the month.
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