Some Mesa leaders said there needs to be a larger buffer between sex offenders’ homes and places where children routinely gather — and they’ve got the attention of at least one state lawmaker.
Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, RChandler, is working to pass a bill through the Arizona Legislature that would strengthen an existing law that prohibits sex offenders from living within 400 feet of schools. The existing law applies to those convicted of sex crimes only while they are on probation.
Tibshraeny said the buffer zone created by current legislation doesn’t offer children enough protection. “Four hundred feet? That’s nothing,” he said Friday during a meeting with the Tribune’s editorial board.
Tibshraeny’s measure would require those convicted of a dangerous crime against children — such as sexual assault, kidnapping or molestation — to live at least 1,500 feet from schools and child care facilities.
It also broadens the existing rules by banning dangerous criminals from living near schools or child care facilities for as long as they live.
Tibshraeny said Arizona law fails to address a segment of criminals who often repeat their crimes.
“It’s very loose and not very restrictive,” Tibshraeny said.
More than 5 percent of sex offenders had been arrested for another sex crime within three years of their release from prison, according to a study released in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Tibshraeny’s bill wouldn’t apply to offenders younger than 18 or those who already lived within the restricted zone before the law was enacted. Violating the law would be punishable by up to 180 days in jail, $2,500 in fines and three years probation.
Senators voted 27-2 on Feb. 22 to approve Tibshraeny’s legislation.
Jack Harper, R-Surprise, and Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, were the only senators to vote against it.
Harper said the legislation was a “feel-good bill” that wouldn’t keep sex offenders from traveling to places where children congregate.
“I live on the outskirts of town. I represent a lot of people who live on the outskirts of town,” he said. “Unless you take their cars away, take away their transportation, it really defeats the purpose.”
Right now, the bill is under review by the House Human Services Committee, which is expected to vote on it Thursday. If it passes out of committee, it would move to the floor of the House for open debate.
Mesa Vice Mayor Claudia Walters, who is weighing a run for Mesa mayor, said she supports Tibshraeny’s bill. A statewide requirement would prevent predators from flocking to cities that lack tougher rules, she said.
Roughly 11,000 registered sex offenders live in Arizona, according to the Department of Public Safety. At least 134 of them live in Mesa.
Walters said the legislation is a fair balance between the existing rules in Arizona and more restrictive laws in other states.
For instance, Iowa requires sex offenders to live at least 2,000 feet from places where children congregate. But Walters said the Iowa rules might be too strict for the East Valley.
“We felt a 1,500-foot separation would be a better distance,” Walters said. “We’re not trying to make it so (sex offenders) can’t live anywhere.”
Mesa City Prosecutor John Pombier said he often attended conferences during which convicted sex offenders speak to groups of law enforcement officials. He said sex offenders compared their urges to prey upon children to an alcoholic’s need to drink.
“We watched four guys telling us, ‘I wish I could tell you I won’t re-offend. But every day I want to re-offend. You’ve got to keep me away from children’” Pombier said of the predators’ remarks.
The East Valley Tribune Web site offers a free online search engine that shows the locations of registered sex offenders. To search by ZIP code or city, click the following link: www.eastvalleytribune.com/so