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Map Need Delays Sex Offender Residency Law

A township sex offender residency law would prohibit adult sex offenders from living within a 1,000-foot radius of a park or open space, and other specified locations.

A township law would prohibit adult sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a park or open space, and other specified locations.

SANATOGA PA – Consideration of a sex offender residency law in Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township has been put on hold until its engineers can create an official map showing where registered sex offenders could – and could not – legally live.

Mapping will take time, possibly several months, and cost $8,000. Members of the township Board of Commissioners, which convened Monday night (Feb. 2, 2009) for the first of two scheduled February meetings, unanimously agreed to both the delay and the expense. Commission Vice President Jonathan Spadt, a vocal proponent of the proposal, was absent from Monday’s meeting and did not vote.

The map is a key component in the law that would ban adult sex offenders from living in any structure within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, open space, community center, or public park or recreational facility. If individuals arrested for residency law violations challenged it in court, township Solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway said, Lower Pottsgrove would need to prove that specific addresses fell within the banned zones “based on a map that meets professional engineering standards.”

That way, Holloway said, “the police wouldn’t have to be out with tape measures” to demonstrate a violation occurred within limits set by the law.

The township engineering firm, Sanatoga-based Bursich Associates Inc., intends to start the mapping work immediately, according to company President Scott Exley. “Things being slow” in the recession-hobbled construction industry, he told board members, “we’ll jump on it right away.”

Township Manager Rodney Hawthorne acknowledged Lower Pottsgrove “had put the cart before the horse” by advertising its intent to conduct a Jan. 22 (2009) public hearing on the law without having a completed map to which the law’s draft language refers. “We need a map approved first,” Hawthorne said, before a hearing could be held.

The advertised hearing was never conducted. Instead, the board canceled its meeting.

An ancillary benefit of Bursich’s efforts, Hawthorne noted, is that the township will update its official map designating all housing subdivisions and other improvements. The last such revision occurred several years ago. The mapping cost is included in the township’s approved budget for 2009, he said.

The state's Megan's Law website.

The state's Megan's Law website.

In a Jan. 12 (2009) legal notice that announced the hearing, the township contends “Sexual Offenders pose a high risk of engaging in further offenses after incarceration and release into (the) community, which affects the general safety, welfare, and best interests of the public.” It also notes the state “has no laws which adequately prohibit or restrict Sexual Offenders from residing or living near areas where children regularly meet or congregate.”

Pennsylvania’s “Megan’s Law” requires the State Police to maintain a registry of anyone who lives, works or attends school in the state and has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to certain child or youth sex offenses. The law, which took effect in 1996, is named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered by a known offender.

The state registry is available online. As of last month it showed 56 identified offenders living in Pottstown’s 19464 zip code; of those, five were reported to be living within the township’s 8 square miles.

Website image from the state of Pennsylvania

Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 2 meeting):

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