City Ordinances and Child Safety Zones
Parenting is a hard job, but most parents do their best to protect their children and keep them safe. Cities in Texas are interested in the same thing. Kyle, Texas is in the news because it recently adopted a city ordinance creating child safety zones with an accompanying map of areas prohibiting residency by sex offenders. The safety zones are areas sex offenders may not reside, and the map reflects the zones allowing their residence to be no less than 1000 feet away from the child safety zones. Sex offender residency ordinances are not new but the adoption of a map with the ordinance was notable leaving little area a registered sex offender may lawfully reside in Kyle.
A child safety zone is a condition of restriction on locations where offenders may go, as established by Texas law. Child safety zones are either issued by a judge through court orders or designated by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as a condition of an offender’s release. Texas Government Code Sections 508.187, 508.225. The Board adopted 500 feet from property line to property line as the default standard distance for a child safety zone in 2017. Many cities in Texas have passed similar residency ordinances and the distance generally exceeds 500 feet.
If a sex offender is subject to a child safety zone, the offender may not go in or within a distance specified by the parole panel of certain premises where children commonly gather. (schools, day-care facility, playgrounds, youth centers, swimming pools, video arcades or other facility regularly holding events for children). Offenders may not supervise or participate in athletic, civic, or cultural activities or programs that include participants 17 or younger. Texas Government Code Sections 508.187, 508.225, and Texas Code Criminal Procedure Art. 42A, 453.
Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures details the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program. Just as it is titled, sex offenders must register with the local law enforcement agency wherever they reside. Most cities across Texas have adopted ordinances that restrict where a sex offender may live. Apparently, Kyle, Texas had never adopted such an ordinance.
In addition to registration requirements and residency restrictions, the Texas Department of Public Safety maintains a website where the public can put an address in and search the area to determine whether there are registered sex offenders living nearby. Upon registering with the local law enforcement agency, the superintendent of a school district is notified if an offender intends to reside, work, or attend school; or the victim of the offense was under 17 and a student; the offender is a student; or the offender registered due to possession or promotion of child pornography.
I have checked the website numerous times over the years as my daughter has grown up, and it is upsetting to me every time I do so. In fact, while writing this I checked and discovered a registered sex offender a mile from my home. The website is very informative and provides a photo, description, and most importantly full address. A stark reminder why cities write and adopt residence restriction ordinances.
Home rule cities in Texas, such as Kyle, have the power to self-govern (Home Rule Amendment to Texas Constitution 1912), and in 2007 a Texas Attorney General opinion concluded sex offender residency restriction ordinances are complimentary to the Texas child safety zone statutes and state law did not preempt such an ordinance. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. GA-0526.
Smaller cities, or general law cities were granted the same ordinance authority when the Texas legislature adopted Local Government Code Section 341.906 effective in 2017 restricting the ability of sex offenders to reside no closer than 1,000 feet from a “child safety zone”.
Presently, the 87th Texas legislative session has a partisan bill, Texas Senate Bill 441 and its companion bill HB 2133 in in the Criminal Justice committee that would allow counties in Texas to restrict sex offenders from child safety zones in the unincorporated area of the county. The new bill defines child safety zone in the same manner; however, the statutory definition does not include churches.
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